When jazz legend Dave Brubeck died on December 5, his profound impact on the world of jazz was noted by front-page announcements of his death in newspapers all over the world. Along with millions of others, I was a devoted Dave Brubeck fan ever since I first heard his music in the 1950s.
Brubeck changed jazz by producing his “cool” sound in collaboration with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, who played counterpoint to Brubeck’s piano. Their innovative use of unusual rhythms captured the imagination of a generation of college students in the ’50s and ’60s. His 33 rpm record Time Out became the first jazz album to sell more than a million copies. After a tour of India and the Middle East, Brubeck began to experiment with rhythmic structures. In his signature piece, “Take Five,” perhaps the most popular jazz single ever, five-beat measures alternate with four-beat measures. He also composed a lively Christmas piece, “God’s Love Made Visible,” in 5/4 time.
Brubeck’s father was an avowed atheist, while his mother, a Christian Scientist, directed the choir at a Presbyterian church. Brubeck’s first job was playing the organ at a reformatory chapel at the age of 14. He remembered the inmates singing “Just as I Am” and “The Old Rugged Cross.”