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Dave Brubeck, jazz composer, pianist, dies

HARTFORDJazz composer and pianist Dave Brubeck, whose pioneering style in pieces such as "Take Five" caught listeners' ears with exotic, challenging rhythms, has died. He was 91.

Brubeck, who lived in Wilton, Conn., died yesterday morning at Norwalk Hospital of heart failure after being stricken while on his way to a cardiology appointment with his son Darius, said his manager Russell Gloyd. Brubeck would have turned 92 today.

Brubeck had a career that spanned almost all American jazz since World War II. He formed The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951 and was the first modern jazz musician to be pictured on the cover of Time magazine -- on Nov. 8, 1954 -- and he helped define the swinging, smoky rhythms of 1950s and '60s club jazz.

George Wein, a jazz pianist and founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, had known Brubeck since he first worked in Wein's club in Boston in 1952.

"No one else played like Dave Brubeck," he said. "No one had the approach to the music that he did. That approach communicated."

Brubeck "represented the best that we can have in jazz," Wein added. "The quality of his persona helped every other jazz musician."

The seminal album "Time Out," released by the quartet in 1959, was the first million-selling jazz LP, and is still among the best-selling jazz albums of all time. The record features "Take Five," which became the quartet's signature theme and even made the Billboard singles chart in 1961. It was composed by Brubeck's longtime saxophonist, Paul Desmond.

"When you start out with goals -- mine were to play polytonally and polyrhythmically -- you never exhaust that," Brubeck told The Associated Press in 1995. "I started doing that in the 1940s. It's still a challenge to discover what can be done with just those two elements."

After service in World War II and study at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., Brubeck formed an octet including Desmond on alto sax and Dave van Kreidt on tenor, Cal Tjader on drums and Bill Smith on clarinet. The group played Brubeck originals and standards by other composers, including some early experimentation in unusual time signatures. Their groundbreaking album "Dave Brubeck Octet" was recorded in 1946.

Born in Concord, Calif., on Dec. 6, 1920, Brubeck actually had planned to become a rancher like his father. He attended the College of the Pacific (now the University of the Pacific) in 1938, intending to major in veterinary medicine and return to the family's 45,000-acre spread.

But within a year Brubeck was drawn to music. He graduated in 1942 and was drafted by the Army, where he served -- mostly as a musician -- under Gen. George S. Patton in Europe. At the time, his Wolfpack Band was the only racially integrated unit in the military.

In an interview for Ken Burns' PBS miniseries "Jazz," Brubeck talked about playing for troops with his integrated band, only to return to the United States to see his black bandmates refused service in a restaurant in Texas.

Brubeck and his wife, Iola, had five sons and a daughter. Four of his sons -- Chris on trombone and electric bass, Dan on drums, Darius on keyboards and Matthew on cello -- played with the London Symphony Orchestra in a birthday tribute to Brubeck in December 2000.

"We never had a rift," Chris Brubeck once said of living and playing with his father. ". . . We've always had music in common."

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