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Jazz Legend Dave Brubeck Dies at 91

The Dave Brubeck Quartet performs “Take 5” at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, May 5, 2007. (Dave Brubeck, piano; Bobby Militello, saxophone; Michael Moore, bass; Randy Jones, drums.) Videos are courtesy of Milken Archive of Jewish Music.

Dave Brubeck, the musician and composer who helped popularize jazz in mainstream American culture with his iconic single “Take Five,” died Wednesday in Norwalk, Conn., a day before his 92nd birthday. Brubeck remained an active musician performing gigs up until last year.

On Wednesday’s NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown talked to George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, about Dave Brubeck’s lasting legacy:

Brubeck grew up in a rural farming community in Northern California near San Francisco. His mother insisted that her three sons make music instead of listen to the radio. Born cross-eyed, he learned to play instruments by ear rather than to sight-read. He planned to be a veterinarian, but after his first year in college he switched his studies to music.

Out of college, he was drafted into the Army during World War II and sent to France for combat. But a commanding officer heard him play music and instead had Brubeck perform for the other soldiers, keeping him away from the fighting. In the Army band, he met a long-term collaborator and bandmate, Paul Desmond.

By the mid-1950s, and after a few different iterations in lineup, the Dave Brubeck Quartet had become one of the most popular jazz acts ever, its namesake landing on the cover of Time magazine in 1954.

Their greatest commercial success came with the release of their album “Time Out” and its hugely successful single, “Take Five,” the first jazz cut to sell a million copies. Their albums were like time capsules of the mid-century, tapping modern artists like Franz Klein and graphic designers like S. Neil Fujita for album art.

Though the quartet broke up in 1967, jazz pianist Brubeck continued to play and release albums for decades. Musically, he was known for his experiments with time signature, as well as creating music that was both jazz but as accessible as pop music.

Below, watch Brubeck perform two numbers, recorded live at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, Pa. This exclusive footage is courtesy of the Milken Archive of Jewish Music.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet performs “Margie.”

The Dave Brubeck Quartet performs “St. Louis Blues” by W. C. Handy.

For more Dave Brubeck videos, please visit milkenarchive.org.

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