Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brubeck left indelible mark on jazz

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I saw and heard Dave Brubeck perform twice, both times during the Jazz Winnipeg Festival. I was going to write that I hadn't seen the legendary jazz pianist and composer in his prime, but that would have been wrong.

Brubeck was 86 when he last appeared here in June 2007 with the bright young bassist Esperanza Spalding opening the show. He may have walked more slowly to the piano, but his mind and fingers were agile.

He still was in his prime

Like an untold number of fans, I went home from work last Wednesday, the day Brubeck died of a heart attack one day shy of his 92nd birthday, and listened to Time Out, the Dave Brubeck Quartet recording that cemented the pianist's reputation.

The colossal hit Take Five captured the attention of jazz fans and others with its odd, 5/4 time and made the Billboard singles chart. That signature piece was composed by the quartet's alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, who has been quoted as saying of Take Five, "It wasn't supposed to be a hit. It was supposed to be a Joe Morello drum solo."

The Time Out album was recorded in 1959, a watershed year for great, lasting jazz albums: Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Charles Mingus's Mingus Ah Um, John Coltrane's Giant Steps and Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come.

It was also a time for hipsters and the geeky-looking pair of Brubeck and Desmond stood out sartorially as well as musically.

There are many great recordings under Brubeck's name, but Time Out, the first million-selling jazz LP, is a must in any good collection and the one that forever will be linked to his name.

Brubeck is also credited with helping lead jazz out of smoky basement clubs and into concert halls. He had great success performing at universities and garnering a generation of fans for himself and jazz in general.

Canadian pianist Oliver Jones said on Wednesday that both Brubeck and Jones's fellow Montrealer Oscar Peterson were responsible for jazz becoming a more respected art form; something more than dance music in clubs.

Brubeck made the cover of Time magazine on Nov. 8, 1954; the second jazz musician to do so after trumpet great Louis Armstrong in 1949.

The majority of my Facebook contacts are related to jazz in one way or another and they were grieving Brubeck's loss, praising him and recounting stories of the pianist and his music.

Montreal pianist Steve Amirault recalled playing Take Five for his audition at St. Francis Xavier University, while pianist and saxophonist Phil Dwyer said succinctly: "he was an artist, a pioneer."

As good a musician and composer and jazz ambassador as he was, Brubeck was seen by many as not innovative enough.

But jazz can be a minefield of cliques and whatever your tastes may be, Brubeck can't be faulted for his commitment to quality music and musicianship.

His decades-long career, his legions of fans, his lasting mark on the jazz world all attest to his talent, his drive, his devotion to music.

I don't know about you, but I've had Blue Rondo a la Turk playing in my head for the last five days.

chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 10, 2012 D3

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