Dave Brubeck: Biography & Songs

Instructor: Benjamin Truitt

Benjamin has a Bachelors in philosophy and a Master's in humanities.

Dave Brubeck was an innovative American composer who left a lasting legacy in jazz. A deeply religious man who fought for civil rights, Brubeck applied his love of music to help connect people.

I think that talking about "popular" and "serious" music is a false distinction. It's really important to reach out to people, and a few familiar notes can sometimes help. -Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck Photo

Dave Brubeck (1920-2012) was a jazz musician whose work with Paul Desmond launched the West Coast Cool Jazz Movement. Known for his meditative piano accompaniment to the number-one all-time jazz hit "Take Five," Brubeck brought world, classical, and jazz music together in unique and incredible music. Brubeck, also a devout Catholic, worked to write great classical and choral compositions in his unique style.

Dave Brubeck Photo
Dave Brubeck Photo

Brubeck's Early Formation

Born in California to a father who was a cattle rancher and open atheist and a mother who was a deeply religious piano teacher, church organizer, and Christian Scientist, Brubeck was raised to recognize and appreciate different outlooks and perspectives from a young age. Brubeck learned to play piano from his mother and took part in accompanying local bands in his community. He went to school to major in veterinary studies but was encouraged to switch to music when his instructors saw that his mind was focused on music. Brubeck graduated in 1942 and married his sweetheart, Iola, to whom he was married for the rest of his life, after he was drafted into the army for World War II. But his playing ensured he was not put into a combat position. In 1944, the units he served in and entertained for came under pressure during the Nazi surge at the Battle of the Bulge, where he saw the horror of hatred and division up close, and Brubeck was one of many GIs who toured the death camps after liberation. This left a lasting impression on him as a person and a musician. These experiences made him an outspoken critic of segregation and a champion for civil rights.

The Dave Brubeck Band

Photo of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. From left: Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Joe Morello and Gene Wright.
Photo of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. From left: Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Joe Morello and Gene Wright.

While serving in the army, Dave Brubeck met saxophonist Paul Desmond (1924-1977), and the two united after their service in the army to start the Dave Brubeck Quartet, which became very successful in the jazz world. Brubeck and Desmond both were impressed in their travels with the army and State Department with musical styles in other countries, and they decided to base their music on unusual time signatures (5/4, 9/8) rather than the traditional 4/4. Desmond's composition that used this style was called "Take 5" after its 5/4 time signature and was an instant hit. "Take Five" fused Desmond's smooth playing with Brubeck's rhythmic accompaniment.

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