Dave BrubeckPhoto by Max Whittaker

Dave Brubeck sits at a piano to celebrate his 88th birthday. Pianos typically have 88 keys.

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Jazz Legend and University of the Pacific Alumnus Dave Brubeck ’42 Dies at 91

Dec 5, 2012

Jazz icon Dave Brubeck, a world-renowned pianist and composer of jazz and classical music whose experimentation with unusual time signatures introduced millions of listeners to jazz, died early this morning in Norwalk, Conn., from heart failure. He would have turned 92 tomorrow.

A 1942 graduate of University of the Pacific, Mr. Brubeck achieved extraordinary success throughout his music career, including the Dave Brubeck Quartet's highly acclaimed album "Time Out" (1959), which sold more than two million copies and remains one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time. During a career that spanned more than 65 years, Mr. Brubeck fought for civil rights and used music to promote unity and bring racial injustices into the national discourse.

"Dave Brubeck dedicated his life to an art form he believed reflected American ideas of freedom and individual expression," said Pacific President Pamela A. Eibeck. "It is with profound sadness that we mark the loss of not only a great musician, but a great man and a great diplomat for jazz."

In 2000, Pacific established The Brubeck Institute, which builds on Mr. Brubeck's lifelong commitment to music, creativity, education, and the advancement of important social issues, including civil rights, social justice and the environment. It provides a focus, venue and inspiration for distinguished musical performance, education, research and cultural advocacy.

The Brubeck Institute impacts society through the arts, continuing the life's work of Dave and Iola Brubeck in education, community engagement and as a catalyst for social change. The institute sponsors the Brubeck Fellows, a group of talented students who study jazz for two years at Pacific and perform as the award-winning Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet. The Brubeck Institute also holds the annual Brubeck Festival, an international event that explores Brubeck's aesthetic, spiritual and philosophical ideas through jazz concerts, lectures and academic symposia. Like the late jazz pianist, The Brubeck Institute has touched the lives of tens of thousands of music enthusiasts.

Dave Brubeck

Mr. Brubeck received numerous awards for his work, including the National Medal of the Arts presented by President Clinton; the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award; the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award; the Smithsonian Medal; and, from the Library of Congress, the official designation as a "Living Legend."  In 2008, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the California History Museum alongside other notable and influential California natives. In 2009, Mr. Brubeck received the Kennedy Center Honor. The award was presented to him on his 89th birthday and the presentation featured a surprise performance by four of Mr. Brubeck's sons. Four months later, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1283, which honored Mr. Brubeck for his work. Internationally, he has received Austria's highest award for the Arts, a citation from the French government, and the Bocconi Medal from Italy. The London Symphony Orchestra, acknowledging their long association, presented him with their prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. In 2006, Brubeck was awarded the University of Notre Dame's Laetare Medal, for his work with choral music. The award is the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics.

On December 6, 2010, Dave's 90th birthday, Academy Award-winning director Clint Eastwood premiered a documentary about the jazz legend titled "In His Own Sweet Way."

"Dave Brubeck is a legend, as well as a close and personal friend," said Eastwood. "He is an American original who made significant contributions to music, introduced a whole new generation to the world of jazz, and explored the international language of music."

Eastwood is also chair of the honorary board of the Brubeck Institute that was formed to preserve and continue Mr. Brubeck's legacy through the Institute at University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Eastwood recounted that he first saw Mr. Brubeck play at the Burma Lounge in Oakland when he was a teen-ager. He later met Mr. Brubeck at a Monterey Jazz Festival in the early '70s and the two instantly connected. Eastwood hosted many events at his Carmel Ranch and home for Brubeck and the Brubeck Institute.

Born on Dec. 6, 1920 in Concord, Calif. to parents Pete and Elizabeth Ivey Brubeck, Mr. Brubeck grew up among a family of musicians. His mother was a classical piano teacher and his two older brothers Howard and Henry were accomplished musicians as well. Mr. Brubeck began playing the piano at 4. Throughout high school, he played jazz piano on weekends with local bands. Mr. Brubeck later credited his unique sense of rhythm to his father's career as a rancher and his years spent as a cowboy on the family ranch, saying that the patterns of the horses and cattle footsteps stuck with him for the rest of his life.

He entered what was then the College of the Pacific in 1938 and studied classical music, while playing jazz at local venues throughout Stockton in the evenings. During his time at Pacific, music students were forbidden to play jazz in the practice rooms.

Throughout his career, Mr. Brubeck sought the acceptance and recognition of jazz as a serious art form. His efforts and works set the foundation for the Brubeck Institute at University of the Pacific.

While attending Pacific, he met his future wife, Iola Whitlock, who would later become his creative partner and primary lyricist. A plaque can be found inside the Faye Spanos Concert Hall at Pacific that marks the spot where Mr. Brubeck first met Iola when both were students at the Stockton campus.

After graduating in 1942, Brubeck enlisted in the Army and married Iola. While serving in Europe in World War II, he led the first integrated military jazz band, part of the Third Army under the direction of General George Patton. After his discharge in 1946, he attended Mills College in Oakland where he studied with renowned French composer Darius Milhaud, who encouraged him to experiment by melding jazz elements into his compositions.

Brubeck Quartet
The "classic" Dave Brubeck Quartet

This experimentation was the beginning of a lifelong career of music innovation that would lead him to international fame.  After leading an award-winning trio from 1949 to 1951, Mr. Brubeck formed the famed Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, drummer Joe Morello, and bassist EugeneWright, often referred to as the "classic quartet" in Mr. Brubeck's history.

The Quartet's recordings and concert appearances on college campuses in the 1950s introduced its individual style of jazz to thousands of students, many of whom became lifelong fans. The college tour broke the long-standing tradition that jazz musicians should only play in night clubs and dance halls. It also led to the release of a number of innovative albums, including "Jazz Goes to College" and "Jazz at the College of the Pacific." The Quartet traveled throughout the country, played at major jazz clubs and toured with leading jazz artists such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker. In 1954, Time Magazine ran a cover story about Mr. Brubeck's prominence in the jazz world. The groundbreaking group won numerous top honors in Downbeat Magazine and readers' polls.

The U.S. State Department selected the Dave Brubeck Quartet as official "Cultural Ambassadors" for the United States and took them overseas for shows in Europe, Poland, India, Pakistan, and the Middle East during a 1958 tour.

In 1958, Mr. Brubeck performed for the Monterey City Council, convincing that governmental body to approve the first Monterey Jazz Festival, one of the most influential music festivals in the world today. That same year, Mr. Brubeck canceled 20 concerts during a tour of southern states instead of give in to demands that he only have white musicians play with him while on stage.

In the group's 1959 "Time Out" album, Mr. Brubeck recorded an entire jazz album of original music - then an unheard of practice - in unorthodox time signatures and featured a modern abstract painting on the cover. It included the singles "Blue Rondo a la Turk," based on a Turkish folk rhythm, and "Take Five," now in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Both songs became the first jazz songs to reach the top 40 on the Billboard charts and remain among the top selling jazz songs of all time. "Time Out" still is listed as one of the top 10 selling jazz albums of all time.

Throughout his career Mr. Brubeck continued to experiment, integrating jazz with polyrhythmic and polytonal musical styles. In 1959 he premiered and recorded his brother Howard's composition "Dialogues for Jazz Combo and Orchestra" with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein's baton.  In 1960 he composed "Points on Jazz" for the American Ballet Theatre and in later decades composed for and performed with the Murray Louis Dance Company. 

In 1964, Mr. Brubeck was the first jazz artist to perform at an official State dinner at the White House. He performed numerous times afterward for the White House, including at the 1988 Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Moscow. He also performed for Pope John Paul II in Candlestick Park in 1980.

Mr. Brubeck continued to perform with other prominent musicians after the classic Quartet stopped performing as a group in 1967. During the 1970s and later, he performed with his sons Darius, Chris and Dan, and often featured them as guest artists during concerts. Mr. Brubeck continued performing past the age of 90, performing on every continent except Antarctica and also playing an active role at the Brubeck Institute at Pacific.

Mr. Brubeck also delved into the world of choral and classical music. He scored a mass, "To Hope! A Celebration." Mr. Brubeck also wrote operas, oratorios, and music for ballets. In 2009, a multimedia orchestral piece that he co-wrote with his son, Chris, "Ansel Adams: America," premiered at the Stockton Symphony and has since been performed throughout the country and in Europe. Another recent cross-genre original work is the "Cannery Row Suite," a work based on John Steinbeck's novel. This piece premiered at the 2006 Monterey Jazz Festival to rave reviews, and was performed later at Pacific.

Mr Brubeck continued to perform in his  90s, and remained wildly popular, as illustrated by recent releases of two compilation albums of his works - "Dave Brubeck: Live at Monterey Jazz 1958 - 2007"  (issued in 2008) and "Legacy of a Legend" (issued in 2010).

Mr. Brubeck was preceded in death by his son Michael. He is survived by his wife Iola, sons Darius, Christopher, Daniel and Matthew, daughter Catherine, 10 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

For information on the Brubeck Institute: www.BrubeckInstitute.org

See Brubeck family's statement on Facebook