A celebrated jazz pianist and composer, Dave Brubeck is living proof that originality and success can go
hand in hand. Even though critics who had favored Brubeck when he was less well known disliked him
after the success of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, he never compromised or altered his music in order to
gain a wider audience. From his popularity in playing college campuses with the Dave Brubeck Quartet
to touring America and Europe later in his career, Brubeck became a leading name in the jazz world
and is one of five jazz musicians who have been featured on the cover of Time magazine. His most
famous pieces, “Time Out,” ”Take Five,” ”Blue Rondo a la Turk” and “Three to Get Ready” are still
praised and performed today.
Born in Concord, California, on December 6, 1920, Brubeck was convinced early in life that he wanted
to be a cattle rancher like his father, Howard. He learned classical piano at the insistence of his mother
Elizabeth but did not learn to read sheet music until much later in life; instead, he memorized his
lessons so his teachers would not see his difficulty.
Brubek’s professors at the University of the Pacific convinced him to switch to a music major from
veterinary science, but Brubeck was nearly expelled when it was learned he could not read music.
Several of his teachers vouched for his skill in playing piano and his ear for harmony and Brubeck was
allowed to graduate on the condition that he would never teach piano. He graduated in 1942 and was
drafted into the army where he led a service band in General Patton’s army during World War II.
Following his return home from the war, Brubeck jumped back into his musical studies with an interest
in jazz sparked by his professor Darius Milhaud. From 1946 to 1949, Brubeck directed an octet of his
classmates in a highly successful experiment of jazz music that was complex and original, featuring
poly-rhythms and playing in two keys at once. This octet was distilled into a popular trio featuring
Brubeck at the keys, drummer Cal Tjader (who doubled on vibes), and bassist Ron Crotty.
In 1951, Brubeck was convinced by alto sax player Paul Desmond to make his group a quartet. The Paul
Brubeck Quartet rose to popularity in the following years. Though some members changed over the
years, eventually the “classic” quartet solidified with drummer Joe Morello joining in 1956 and bassist
Eugene Wright completing the group in 1958. Wright was a controversial choice because he was
African American, and during the racially tense years of the fifties and sixties the Dave Brubeck Quartet
had to cancel several concerts and television appearances due to appeals to keep Eugene Wright off
stage and off camera.
This determination to keep the quartet invested in jazz talent and not bigoted public opinion led
Brubeck, his wife Lola Brubeck (also the group’s lyricist) and the rest of the group to sponsor an anti-
racism show called “The Real Ambassadors” featuring Louis Armstrong. The show was performed
at the Monterey Jazz Festival in the early 60s . The quartet continued to travel worldwide until the
original group was dissolved in 1967, after which the quartet continued in various forms with different
musicians still under Brubeck.
Dave Brubeck has been awarded multiple honors and degrees from several colleges and dignitaries in
recognition of his art. He recently supported the Jazz Foundation by performing in their 2006 annual
benefit concert to support the victims of Hurricane Katrina.