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The birth of a prodigy

Dave Brubeck was born on December 6, 1920 in Concord, California. He was surrounded by music during his childhood thanks to his mother, a classically trained pianist, and his two older brothers who would later become professional musicians. It was at the age of 4 that Dave Brubeck received his first piano lessons. It wasn't easy as the young Brubeck showed some reluctance to learn to read music, but his natural ease at the keyboard and his ability to pick up melodies by ear kept the secret from him for many years. As a teenager, Dave Brubeck had a passion for music and performed with a local dance band in his spare time, however, he planned to take a more practical career path and study veterinary medicine. To help pay for his education, Dave Brubeck played piano in local nightclubs, his enthusiasm for performing was so great, that one of his teachers advised him to study music. He followed this advice and graduated in 1942 even though he still could not read music.

A career like no other

Dave Brubeck makes his first commercial recordings for the California-based Fantasy Records label. During 1951, the Dave Brubeck Quartet made its debut and the pianist was joined by Paul Desmond on alto saxophone. The rhythm section of the Quartet changed with Joe Morello becoming their permanent drummer in 1956 and Eugene Wright becoming the regular bassist in 1958.

Dave Brubeck's recordings received rave reviews with impressive sales and increasingly regular performances in jazz clubs. The quartet began to play numerous concerts on college campuses around the country, exposing their art to a new and quite enthusiastic audience. Dave Brubeck and the Quartet became so popular that they made the cover of a Times Magazine article on November 8, 1954. At the time, this was only the second time that such an accolade had been given to a jazz musician, Louis Armstrong being the first.

In 1955, Brubeck signed with Columbia Records, the most prestigious American record company, and released his first album for the label: Brubeck Time, a few months later. The Dave Brubeck Quartet became the most popular jazz group in the United States and in 1959, one of the group's most ambitious projects was released: Time Out. While Columbia was very reluctant to release the album, which they considered too difficult for the general public to understand, it became the first jazz album to sell a million copies. The band became an international sensation, with the State Department even arranging for them to perform in places rarely visited by jazz artists, such as Poland, Turkey, India, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka.


Dave Brubeck Quartet

The end of a career and the beginning of a hegemony

During the 50s and 60s, very few American jazz artists had as strong an influence as Dave Brubeck. By putting forward unusual time signatures and adventurous tones. Dave Brubeck proved to everyone that ambitious and challenging music could be accessible and understood by anyone. At a time when rock and roll dominated the popular music landscape in the 1960s, he was perhaps the most important jazz artist of all. He is perhaps the most honored jazz artist of his generation with awards from Bill Clinton: National Medal of the Arts in 1994 and Barack Obama: Kennedy Center Honors in 2009. Dave Brubeck even has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Grammy from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for his gigantic career. He also receives the Smithsonian Medal and numerous honorary degrees from universities in five different countries. 

Dave Brubeck passed away at the age of 91 from heart failure in late 2012, the day before his 92nd birthday. His life as well as his work have been celebrated worldwide.