Dave Brubeck is one of those musicians who, it turns out, never intended to make music. Brubeck came from a California ranch family, and that’s how he planned to spend his days; herding cattle. Instead, the head of the zoology department at the college that Brubeck was attending as a veterinary science student told him, “stop wasting my time and yours”. So Brubeck followed in his mother’s footsteps - she played piano and had hoped to become a concert pianist.
Unlike his mother though, Brubeck couldn’t read music. It didn’t matter; he excelled and was soon playing piano for the Red Cross during World War II. Brubeck was so good, in fact, that he was ordered to form a band.
Fame came early in Brubeck’s career. He was featured on the cover of TIME magazine in 1954 and was only the second jazz artist to appear on the front of the magazine. His most-enduring fame would come five years later with a song that would become the biggest-selling jazz single ever: Take Five. This creative exercise in 5/4 has become a jazz standard and has led to similar attempts at recording jazz in this time signature, but Dave Brubeck will always remain the true owner of the approach.
Now I know some of you will argue that it wasn’t Brubeck but his longtime saxophonist Paul Desmond that penned the piece.
I was lucky enough to meet Dave Brubeck only once, and that was by phone.
But it was during that conversation that he attempted to set the record straight. Either way, Take Five remains a classic and Dave Brubeck will always be remembered for his contributions not only to jazz but classical and choral music.
Dave Brubeck died Wednesday morning at the age of 91.