Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Farewell to One of Jazz's First Pop Star

On December 5th, we lost another fine musician; Dave Brubeck passed away of heart failure just one day before his 92nd birthday. From the San Francisco Bay Area, this American jazz pianist and composer began his career in 1940s, and became one of the foremost exponents of progressive jazz. Brubeck's style ranged from refined to bombastic, reflecting his mother's attempt at classical training and his improv skills, using unusual time signatures, contrasting rhythms, meters, and tonalities. After serving in U.S. Army during WWII (where he played piano and was ordered to form a band), he later formed the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951 with fellow soldier and saxophonist Paul Desmond, and found great success till the group disbanded in 1967. My husband is a big a Brubeck fan, and even got see him perform live with the San Diego Symphony, a memorable and impressive concert.

As I was currently in the process of writing a post about the instrumental hits of the 1960s, Brubeck's most infamous song, "Take Five," will be featured with those selections, so I'm intentionally leaving it out of this post (check back in a week or two!). Another memorable song composed by Brubeck is "Blue Rondo a' la Turk," a jazz standard from the Time Out album that reached #2 on the Billboard Pop chart in 1961. Written in 9/8 and swing 4/4 time, Brubeck heard this unusual rhythm played by a group of Turkish musicians on the street. Upon asking the musicians where they got the rhythm, one replied, "This rhythm is to us, what blues it to you." Hence he titled it "Blue Rondo a' la Turk." Here's the Dave Brubeck Quartet playing a superb live performance in the mid-60s.

And another unique tune, this time in written in 7/4 time by Brubeck, here's "Unsquare Dance,"which peaked at #73 on the Billboard charts in 1961. It was written during a single trip from home to the recording studio, and was recorded in the same day. No live performances of the Quartet but here's a cute dance routine to it from the '60s.
Farewell, Mr. Brubeck, and thank you for the music! Think I'll go and play your Greatest Hits LP on my turntable right now!

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