Dave Brubeck was a jazz artist heavily influenced by classical music, colliding the formal with the improvisational. The music of the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet and his other units was accessible to audiences while showing a hunger for experimentation and unorthodox rhythms.
The son of a cattle rancher and a mother who was a classically trained pianist, Brubeck studied zoology at the College of the Pacific in Stockton, but soon gravitated to the music department. During nearly four years in Europe with the U.S. Army during World War II, Brubeck formed a band, the Wolfpack. He returned to the Bay Area and experimented with a variety of music groups and styles.
In 1951, he and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond created what would become one of the most popular acts of West Coast jazz, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, which released a series of notable live albums in the early 1950s. Time magazine put Brubeck on its cover in 1954.
In 1959, the band released “Time Out,” which included the quartet's most famous song, “Take Five” (composed by Desmond). The song bounces to a then-unusual 5/4 time. In 2005, it was one of 50 recordings put on that year's National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
During his career, Brubeck also wrote several standards, including “The Duke” and “In Your Own Sweet Way.” The Quartet was disbanded in 1967, and Brubeck sought other musical settings and ideas. In 1971, he composed the politically cogent “Truth Has Fallen,” inspired by the events of the Kent State shootings and the Vietnam War.
His famous Quartet reunited for a tour in 1976, but Desmond died of lung cancer the following year. Brubeck continues to compose and perform, often with the backing of his musician-composer sons: pianist Darius, percussionist Dan, multi-instrumentalist Chris and cellist Matthew.
Brubeck died Dec. 5, 2012, of heart failure while on his way to a cardiologist appointment with his son, according the the Associated Press. His death came the day before his 92nd birthday.