Another great one goes away. (Read THIS.)
We knew he wouldn’t live forever, but damned if he didn’t try.
91 years old.
The first jazz musician to move a million units (courtesy of the watershed composition “Take Five”).
Married to the same woman his entire adult life.
He played and performed until he was physcially incapable of doing so (in 2011).
In a piece celebrating one of the seminal recordings of the 20th Century (hint: it was made by Charles Mingus and can be read in its entirety HERE) I wrote: 1959 was, by any measure, a watershed year for jazz music. Some all-time great recordings were released during this year, including Kind Of Blue (Miles Davis), Giant Steps (John Coltrane), The Shape of Jazz To Come (Ornette Coleman), Time Out (Dave Brubeck) and, of course, Mingus Ah Um.
Everyone knows who Miles is (and, to lesser extents, the other three are), but while Dave Brubeck may not get the immediate name recognition, there are few people in the world who have not heard this song at least one time, and even if they can’t say what it’s called, they will invariably say “I know that song” or, better, “I love that song!”
Can you dig it? I knew that you could.
How many human beings can say, at any point in their life, that they have created something sufficiently indelible that it could –or should– get the time capsule treatment? A document that the rest of us, as a species, can hold up and say “Here we are, at our best. Please consider that one of us was able to do this before judgment is finally passed.” It’s works like this (the tune, the album) that make us better as people, and are capable of making individual lives better than they otherwise would have been. Take me for instance.
Take Five might be the ultimate gateway drug for jazz fandom: you can ride the blue breeze onto cool waves and, because it is at once accessible and addictive, be ready –and eager– for deeper, darker waters. Recorded during the most important year for jazz music, Dave Brubeck’s masterpiece helped pave the way for things that came later. It’s impossible to imagine how many eventual jazz aficiondos got their feet wet listening to these sounds and staring at that unparalleled cover art. This is jazz, this is music, this is art. For some, this is life.
Brubeck dedicated his long life to his art, and many lives were –and will be– enriched because of it. His life itself is a tribute to what we are capable of, at our best, and anyone, artistic, athletic or just in honest pursuit of self actualization, can learn a great deal by his example. It’s here that I am obliged to cede the stage to another American treasure, the brilliant and prolific jazz/music historian (and writer) Ted Gioia, who put the following tribute on his Facebook page:
I first met Dave Brubeck when I was in my twenties, and writing my book on West Coast Jazz. Dave deeply impressed me, and not just as a musician. How many celebrities have a marriage that lasts 70 years? I think Dave is the only one. He was a very caring family man, a good dad and husband – never a given in the entertainment industry. He was a pioneer on civil rights, threatening to cancel concerts when faced with complaints about his integrated band. He served his country as a soldier (at the Battle of the Bulge) and as both an official and unofficial ambassador. When Reagan met Gorbachev, Dave Brubeck was there, bringing people together with his music. I’ve talked to many of his friends over the years, and they tell stories of his kindness and loyalty. You could a learn a lot from Dave Brubeck just by watching how he conducted himself offstage. And then there is the public side of his music career, with all those concerts and recordings that reached tens of millions of people. I was privileged to know him, but many who simply experienced his artistry through his music will also miss him and grieve at his passing. God bless you, Dave!
God bless and Godspeed. Whether or not one believes in God, one can be grateful to share the universe with a specimen like Brubeck. One can appreciate the forces that made him possible, allowed him to do his work, and facilitate our enjoyment of it.