Dave Brubeck (born December 6, 1920 in Concord, California) is an American jazz pianist often regarded as a genius in his field, who has written a number of jazz standards, including In Your Own Sweet Way and The Duke. Brubeck's style ranges from refined to bombastic, reflecting his mother's attempts at classical training and his improvisational skills. Much of his music employs unusual time signatures.
His long-time musical partner, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, wrote what is arguably the quartet's most famous piece, Take Five (which is in 5/4 time). Brubeck experimented with time signatures through much of his career, recording Pick Up Sticks in 6/4, Unsquare Dance in 7/4, and Blue Rondo A La Turk in 9/8, an experimentation begun with his attempts to put music to the odd rhythms generated by various machines around him on his parents' cattle ranch in a small town in the western United States. The title of Blue Rondo A La Turk is a play on Mozart's Rondo alla Turca: Allegretto from his Piano Sonata No. 11, and the 9/8 metre of traditional Turkish music, the country in which the band was touring when the tune was written.
Brubeck's mother studied piano in England and intended to become a concert pianist; at home she taught piano for extra money. Brubeck was not particularly interested in learning by any particular method, but preferred to create his own melodies, and therefore avoided learning to read sheet music. In college Brubeck was nearly expelled when one of his professors discovered that he could not read sheet music. Several of his professors came forward arguing for his ability with counterpoint and harmony, but the school was still afraid that it would cause a scandal, and only agreed to let Brubeck graduate once he promised never to teach piano.
After graduating from the University of the Pacific in 1942, Brubeck was drafted into the army and served overseas in George Patton's Third Army during the Battle of the Bulge. He played in a band, quickly integrating it and gaining both popularity and deference. He returned to college after serving nearly 4 years in the army, this time attending Mills College and studying under Darius Milhaud, who encouraged him to study fugue and orchestration but not classical piano. (Oddly enough, most critics consider Brubeck something of a classical pianist playing jazz.)
After completing his studies under Milhaud, Brubeck signed with Berkeley, California's Fantasy Records. He started an octet including Cal Tjader and Paul Desmond. The group was highly experimental and made few recordings, and got even fewer paying jobs. A bit discouraged, Brubeck started a trio with two of the members, not including Desmond, who had a gig of his own, and spent several years playing nothing but jazz standards. Brubeck then formed The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951, which consisted of Joe Dodge on drums, Bob Bates on bass, Paul Desmond on saxophone, and of course Brubeck on piano. They took up a long residency at San Francisco's Black Hawk nightclub and gained great popularity touring college campuses, recording a series of albums with such titles as Jazz at Oberlin, Jazz Goes to College and Jazz Goes to Junior College. In 1954 he was featured on the cover of Time Magazine, the first Jazz musician to be so honored. In the mid-1950s Bates and Dodge were respectively replaced by Eugene Wright and Joe Morello. Eugene Wright is African-American; in the late 1950s Brubeck cancelled many concerts because the club owners wanted him to bring a different bassist. He also cancelled a television appearance when he found out that the venue intended to keep Wright off-camera.
In 1959 the Dave Brubeck Quartet released Time Out, an album their label was enthusiastic about but nonetheless hesitant to release. The album contained all original compositions, almost none of which were in common time. Nonetheless, on the strength of these unusual time signatures (the album included Take Five, Blue Rondo A La Turk, and Pick Up Sticks), it quickly went platinum. The quartet followed up its success with several more albums in the same vein, including Time Further Out (1961), Time in Outer Space, and Time Changes. These albums were also known for using contemporary paintings as cover art, featuring the work of Neil Fujita on Time Out, Joan Miró on Time Further Out, Franz Kline on Time in Outer Space, and Sam Francis on Time Changes. A high point for the group was their classic 1963 live album At Carnegie Hall, described by critic Richard Palmer as "arguably Dave Brubeck's greatest concert".
The Dave Brubeck Quartet broke up in 1967 except for a 25th anniversary reunion in 1976; Brubeck continued playing with Desmond and then began recording with Gerry Mulligan. Desmond died in 1977 and left everything, including residuals and the immense royalties for Take Five, to the American Red Cross. Mulligan and Brubeck recorded together for six years and then Brubeck formed another group with Perry Robinson on clarinet (or Jerry Bergonzi on saxophone), and three of his sons, Dan, Darius, and Chris, on drums, bass, and keyboards. Brubeck continues to write new works, including orchestrations and ballet scores, and tours about 80 cities each year, usually 20 of them in Europe in the spring. In recent years his quartet has included alto saxophonist Bobby Militello, bassist Alec Dankworth (who replaced Jack Six), and drummer Randy Jones.