David Brubeck was born on December 6, 1920 in Concord, California, to Pete and Elizabeth Brubeck. As a child, he lived on his family’s 1,200-acre ranch in Ione, California, and it was there that his love of music blossomed. His mother forbade Brubeck and his brothers from listening to the radio, so they learned to play instruments and practiced everything from spirituals to cowboy songs. Later, Brubeck became one of the leading jazz pianists and composers of the 1950s and 60s and the first musician to sell over one million copies of a jazz record.
Early Years and the Rise to Fame
In the 1940s, Brubeck attended college where he studied music. He also got married, and served in the army during World War II. While in the army, Brubeck led a band that traveled into combat areas to play for troops, and while he was close to the front line, he never fought. It was in the army that Brubeck met Paul Desmond, a formative musical colleague—the two men eventually became one of jazz’s greatest combos.
Brubeck’s army band called themselves the “Wolf Pack,” one of the first racially integrated music groups in the US Army. Throughout his career, Brubeck insisted on the inclusion of his Black bandmember, bassist Eugene Wright, and often refused to perform for segregated audiences.
Brubeck’s unique style and personal musical language set him apart from other musicians of the time and although he had his critics, by the late 1950s, he and his quartet had broken into the mainstream. In 1958, his band traveled to Eastern Europe, India, and the Middle East on a State Department-sponsored tour. Brubeck learned to appreciate Middle Eastern music, which was very different than what he knew and played. The result of the trip was Brubeck’s album Time Out, recorded in 1959, which used different time signatures than jazz’s traditional 4/4. Composed by Desmond, a single from the album (“Take Five”) became a national phenomenon and is still popular today.
As the Dave Brubeck Quartet became a household name, they often played shows with the biggest jazz performers of the time, including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, and more.
The Brubecks Move to Connecticut
In 1960, Brubeck relocated his family—his wife, Iola, and their five children—to Wilton, Connecticut where they later had one more child. In 1967, his band broke up and Brubeck spent the majority of his time composing musical scores, many of which he collaborated on with Iola. During the 1960s, most of his compositions addressed societal and political themes that dealt with discrimination in America, current affairs, and religious topics. Besides composing, Brubeck continued to perform throughout the 1970s and beyond, often playing with his own children, or in quartets.
Death and Legacy
Dave Brubeck died on December 5, 2012 on the way to a doctor’s appointment. He was one day shy of his 92nd birthday. Throughout his life, he received numerous national and international honors for his work. In 2000, the National Endowment for the Arts declared Dave Brubeck a Jazz Master. In addition, he was inducted into the American Classical Hall of Fame in 2003, and he received a Living Legacy Jazz Award from the Kennedy Center in 2007. In 2009, on Brubeck’s 89th birthday, President Barack Obama presented him with a prestigious Kennedy Center Honor.
In 2013, the Connecticut State Senate honored Dave Brubeck. Senator Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) said on the senate floor of Brubeck, “It is with great pride that I rise to have us all pay special tribute today to a celebrated music legend. Not only was Dave Brubeck world renowned, he was a resident of Wilton. The state of Connecticut and a dearly loved and admired citizen of the world. A true home town and home state hero.”