David Warren Brubeck was born on December 6, 1920 in California. Dave’s mother studied classical piano in England with the intention of being a concert pianist and she gave piano lessons at home for extra money. Although Dave originally was not interested in the piano, he did take lessons from his mother though he never learned to read music and was able to get by with his fantastic ears. It wasn’t until Brubeck was in college that anyone even discovered he couldn’t read music. Dave’s father was a cattle rancher and Dave enrolled at the College of the Pacific to study veterinary science to follow in his father’s career path. While in school, the head of the Zoology department told Dave that his mind was across the field in the music conservatory and to stop wasting both their time. So Brubeck enrolled into the music conservatory and it was here they eventually discovered that he could not read music. Some professors argued that his ability with counterpoint and harmony made up for this but the university was worried of a scandal. They came to the agreement that Dave could graduate if he promised to never teach piano.
After college, in 1942, Brubeck was drafted into the army and served in George Patton’s Third Army. He was able to avoid fighting in the Battle of the Bulge by offering to play piano at a Red Cross event. After this he was asked to form a band by the army and it became one of the first integrated armed forces bands. It was also during his time in the army that he met and began playing with Paul Desmond. After the army, Brubeck went back to school and studied fugue and orchestration with Darius Milhaud at Mills College. After his studies he formed a few groups that had little success including an octet and a trio that included Cal Tjader. In 1951, the Dave Brubeck Quartet was formed with Paul Desmond, Joe Dodge and Bob Bates. The held a residency at the Black Hawk in San Francisco and toured many colleges with great success. During this time Brubeck’s quartet recorded a series of albums including ‘Jazz at Oberlin’, ‘Jazz Goes To College’ and ‘Jazz Goes to Junior College’. In 1954 Dave Brubeck was featured on the cover of Time Magazine and was the first jazz musician to ever be given that honor. Also during this time the rhythm section of the band changed to Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums.
In 1959 Dave began making music based on a concept that helped define his career and contributions to jazz. The Dave Brubeck Quartet released the album ‘Time Out’ and it quickly went platinum. On this album and the ones that followed, the tunes performed were all in odd time signatures not usually played in jazz and western music. In the video play list above, Brubeck goes into detail on this concept in the first few videos. Three albums that followed in this concept were ‘Time Further Out’, ‘Time In Outer Space’, and ‘Time Changes’. In 1963 the group made the also famous album ‘Live at Carnegie Hall’. In the early 1960s Brubeck achieved another one of his goals; an all jazz format radio station. Brubeck’s quartet broke up in 1967 though he continued to play Paul Desmond and began playing a lot with Gerry Mulligan as well. Since then he has been playing in groups with three of his sons, who play bass, drums and keyboard as well as Perry Robinson, Bobby Militello, Michael Moore and Randy Jones. In 1994 he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1996 he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2008 Condoleezza Rice presented Dave with the ‘Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy’. On September 20, 2009 Dave was given an honorary Doctorate from the Berklee College of Music.
“Jazz is about the only form of art existing today in which there is freedom of the individual without the loss of group contact.”
“I'm always hoping for the nights that are inspired where you almost have an out of body experience.”
“There's a way of playing safe, there's a way of using tricks and there's the way I like to play which is dangerously where you're going to take a chance on making mistakes in order to create something you haven't created before.”
“We don't know the power that's within our own bodies.”
- Dave Brubeck