Dave Brubeck died yesterday at the age of 91. He's best known for the iconic tune "Take Five" Before he became famous, Brubeck got his start right here in the Bay Area. NBC Bay Area's Stephanie Chuang looks back on a career, that lasted almost as long as the American art form has been around
It was 1959 and the world was buzzing with a new jazz album out by a man with Bay Area beginnings. “Time Out” was the first-ever jazz album to go platinum, selling more than one million copies. The magic behind it came from none other than Concord-born Dave Brubeck and his group, “The Dave Brubeck Quartet.”
Just one day away from turning 92, the Jazz giant died of heart failure with his family by his side in Connecticut. Though he spent his last years on the East Coast, it was the West Coast where he ignited a jazz scene. Brubeck was born on Dec.r 6, 1920 in Concord, a place he affectionately referred to as his “cow town,” into a well-established family. His father was a cowboy, his mother a piano teacher. Concord Historical Society President Lloyd Crenna described Brubeck's mother as a legend in town.
“Most people who learned piano in Concord learned it from Mrs. Brubeck in, including her sons.“ Crenna said she did not allow her sons to play the radio or any recorded music. “She said if you want to hear music, you had to learn to play it yourself.”
And he did. First he studied at the College of the Pacific, now the University of the Pacific, in Stockton. He was drafted into the Army during World War II, playing with a racially-mixed band dubbed “The Wolfpack.” After his military stint, he decided to attend Mills College in Oakland, studying under famous French composer and teacher, Darius Milhaud. Mills Professor of Music David Bernstein said Milhaud helped guide Brubeck’s musical identity by encouraging freedom with experimentation.
“Rather than telling Brubeck to look to more conventional modes, Milhaud would say, ‘Wow, that is a great thing to do – keep on going. Follow your own voice.”
That voice would go on to start the West Coast Jazz Scene, a cool jazz tone that swept the Bay Area. The Dave Brubeck Quartet reached its pinnacle of success when “Time Out” was released in 1959. It almost didn’t make it. “The record company that was going to release ‘Time Out’ was not satisfied with it because it thought it was pushing the edges too much,” recalled Bernstein. “Brubeck didn’t compromise his ideals and all of a sudden it was a hit record.” It went on to become the first-ever jazz album to go platinum, selling more than one million copies.
The legacy lives on not only in the halls at Mills College in Oakland, but also at the University of the Pacific where Brubeck and his wife, Iola, established the Brubeck Institute in 2000. Executive Director Simon Rowe played one of Brubeck’s pieces titled “In Your Own Sweet Way,” describing it as what epitomized his life. “He did things in his own sweet way.”
One of those things was fighting for racial equality and civil rights. Rowe said Brubeck would cancel shows if promoters pushed back on allowing black musicians to join him. He described an incident when Brubeck had a tour in the south. Promoters discovered the base player was black and said he couldn’t play. That’s when Brubeck canceled 23 out of 25 dates.
Brubeck was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in Sacramento in 2008, along with 11 other famous people. He is survived by five children, four of them professional musicians, and by his wife of 70 years.