Dave Brubeck, giant in jazz world, dies at 91

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck established himself as an artist and humanitarian during the height of his performing career. But he also was an innovator and teacher whose work remains viable.

“His experimentation with odd meters in music is something students are doing today,” said Mike Tomaro, director of jazz studies at Duquesne University. “They don't think about him doing that 50 years ago.”

Brubeck, the creator of jazz that mixed rhythmic and cultural styles, died in Norwalk, Conn., on Wednesday, one day short of his 92nd birthday.

The creator of a great deal of small-group jazz as well as orchestral music, he perhaps is best known for his 1959 recording “Time Out,” which produced two pop hits and propelled jazz into a stage presence on college campuses.

One of them, “Take Five,” became a theme song of Brubeck's career, and the other, “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” set the pattern for blending musical genres that still is being explored.

David Budway, the pianist who grew up in Point Breeze and now is running his career out of New York City, said he sometimes gets criticized by his management for doing the same thing. But he credited Brubeck for being something of a mentor in that style.

“It is just a constant attempt to get better,” he said. “That's what Dave Brubeck was doing, too.”

John Schreiber, the president and CEO of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, had many encounters with Brubeck during his years as a jazz festival producer with the famed George Wein Productions from New York City.

“Dave Brubeck had a gift and a sense of mission to share his thoughts with his music,” he said. “His spirit was as brilliant and as generous as his art. He was the real McCoy.”

He added that Brubeck's hits with “Take Five” and other songs also “made jazz accessible” to an audience that had fallen away from it after the bebop days.

Tomaro, who also is a composer and arranger, gave Brubeck a great deal of credit for causing a swing in music popularity on college campuses. Brubeck started that early in the 1950s when he was simply marketing his group, but the interest in jazz really burgeoned after “Time Out.”

Tomaro agreed, saying Brubeck helped lift jazz to a level “that showed it wasn't music only for the hipsters.”

Trumpet player James Moore, who is well known for his work in the Pittsburgh area and who teaches at West Virginia Wesleyan in Buckhannon, said he walked by a rehearsal area Wednesday afternoon to hear some classic Brubeck recordings being played.

“They still appreciate him,” he said of his students. “Of course, we preach it so hard, but this is one of those times where you stop and take a look at that career.”

Budway said he had to grow into Brubeck's music but was impressed with the humanitarian sense he showed in his compositions and work.

Brubeck wrote one cantata that dealt with blacks and Jews in America, and another about the killing of student protesters at Kent State University in 1970. He also performed for eight presidents and at the Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev summit in 1988.

“He was one of the most generous, loving, pure people you would ever want to meet,” Schreiber said. “He was a pure artist.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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