Sam Whiting, San Francisco Chronicle
Dave Brubeck, a giant of American music who was largely responsible for turning modern jazz into pop music, died Wednesday a day short of his 92nd birthday.
He was an ever-adventurous composer, educator, pianist, bandleader and world-traveling ambassador for jazz who continued performing until only a few months ago.
The famed, bespectacled pianist died of heart failure while on his way to a regular doctor’s appointment near his longtime home of Wilton, Conn., according to Russell Gloyd, his longtime manager.
Mr. Brubeck was born in Concord and raised on a ranch in the Sierra foothills. He became a San Francisco bandleader and pianist credited with one of the major innovations in popular music: Working with San Francisco saxophonist Paul Desmond, Mr. Brubeck was the first pianist to break 4/4 time in jazz, by adding a fifth beat to the measure, according to jazz historian Ted Gioia.
“Take Five,” written by Desmond and released in 1959 on the album “Time Out” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, popularized this 5/4 time signature and became a pop hit, a rarity for a jazz instrumental. In 1961, “Time Out” reached No. 2 among popular albums on the Billboard chart, and “Take Five” topped out at No. 5 on the adult contemporary chart.
“That meter later showed up in everything from the theme to ‘Mission Impossible’ to the Jethro Tull song ‘Living in the Past,’ ” said Gioia. “Dave was an innovator who started out as a leading light of San Francisco jazz but soon brought his artistry to the whole world.”
Mr. Brubeck recorded more than 100 albums for large orchestras, choruses and even wrote two ballets, but his main forum was the Dave Brubeck Quartet, which he formed in 1951 in San Francisco. Introduced at the Geary Cellar, underneath the Geary Theater, the Quartet was the house band for six years at the now-defunct Blackhawk jazz club in the Tenderloin. During that time, modern jazz became dominant over the traditional, Dixieland sound.
“He was not totally accepted by the jazz community early on. People thought his piano playing didn’t swing,” said Dick Conte, a pianist and Bay Area jazz disc jockey who interviewed Mr. Brubeck many times over the years. “Gradually, he was able to win people over because he was of great substance. Over the years, people gravitated toward him – even the ones who had put him down.”