Dave Brubeck is a legend and jazz icon. His joy in performing and his daring improvisations continue to challenge and excite new generations of musicians and listeners.
Youngest of three musical brothers, Dave Brubeck was born in Concord, California, on December 6, 1920. His father was a cattle rancher and his mother a pianist and music teacher. When he was twelve, the family moved from Concord to the foothills of the Sierras, where Brubeck's father managed a 45,000-acre cattle ranch. Young Dave wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and be a rancher. At the same time the lure of music, and especially jazz, drew him to the piano and local dance bands where he played professionally starting in his early teens. He entered the College of the Pacific, Stockton, California, as a student of veterinary medicine and planned on returning to the ranch to work with his father. Brubeck worked his way through school as a jazz pianist in local clubs, and finally decided to forsake the cattle business and changed his college major to music. In 1942 he entered the Army where he served under Patton in the European Theater.
Upon his discharge in 1946, Dave studied composition with Darius Milhaud, the famous French composer, who was teaching at Mills College in Oakland, California. Milhaud encouraged Brubeck to pursue a career both in jazz and in composition. Brubeck and other Milhaud students began to compose and perform in an Octet, which recorded and received critical attention as an innovative force in jazz. Among the musicians in that early Octet were Cal Tjader and Paul Desmond, who later became members of the Dave Brubeck Trio and Quartet, and clarinetist Bill Smith, who still appears frequently with the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
Dave Brubeck and his Trio with Cal Tjader and Ron Crotty cut their first records in San Francisco in 1949 and won Best Small Combo awards in both the Critics and the Reader's Polls in Down Beat Magazine. When the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond on alto saxophone was formed in 1951, the distinctive harmonic approach employed by Brubeck and Desmond, and their daring improvised contrapuntal choruses caused a stir in the jazz world, launching what later became known as "West Coast" or "cool" jazz. The Quartet¹s recordings and concert appearances on college campuses introduced this new sound to thousands of students.
Their audience was not limited to campuses, however. The Dave Brubeck Quartet played in jazz clubs in major cities and toured with "package shows" featuring such artists as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, and Gerry Mulligan.
They won the first jazz poll conducted by The Pittsburgh Courier, a Black newspaper, and repeatedly won top honors in the Down Beat Reader's polls. By 1954 Brubeck's popularity was such that his picture appeared on the cover of Time Magazine and his recordings were played throughout the world. In 1958 the State Department sent The Quartet on a 3-month tour of countries behind the Iron Curtain and the Middle East. This led to compositions and recordings influenced by ethnic music. World tours by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, including several for The U.S. State Department, have made jazzman Dave Brubeck one of America¹s foremost goodwill ambassadors. He entertained world leaders at the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit in Moscow in 1988. He has performed before eight U.S. Presidents, princes, kings, heads of state, and Pope John Paul ll.
Over his long career Dave Brubeck also recorded with legendary jazz figures Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Rushing and Carmen McRae. Always expanding jazz horizons, Dave Brubeck and his Quartet performed and in 1959 recorded with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. An early experimenter in combining jazz with symphony orchestras, Brubeck continues to appear as composer-performer in concerts of his choral and symphonic compositions. He celebrated is 80th birthday with the London Symphony Orchestra performing an all-Brubeck program which featured him along with four of his sons and quartet member Bobby Militello as soloists.
Dave Brubeck has received many honors, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, induction into the Pantheon of the Arts at University of The Pacific, numerous awards from trade magazines, Playboy Magazine Hall of Fame, Down Beat Hall of Fame, the Jazz Institute Hall of Fame at Rutgers University, the American Eagle Award from the National Music Council, the Gerard Manley Hopkins Award from Fairfield University, the Connecticut Arts Award, Helwig Distinguished Artist Award, and honorary doctorates from six American universities, one from University of Duisburg in Germany and Nottingham University in England. The University of the Pacific has honored him by the establishment of The Brubeck Institute dedicated to the furtherance of contemporary music of all styles, with an emphasis on improvisation.
In recognition of his ongoing contribution to jazz, Dave Brubeck received a Jazz Master's Award in January 1999 from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has also received the National Medal of the Arts from the NEA in a White House ceremony. A Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award has honored his musical contributions over the past half-century as both pianist and composer. In 1996 he was inducted into the International Jazz Hall of Fame. The French government recognized his contribution to the arts and received a medal from the Bocconi University of Milan, Italy. Brubeck recently received awards from the Music Educators National Conference, the National Music Teachers Association and Columbia University Teachers College, as well as the Golden State award from the State of California.