Today the jazz world lost Dave Brubeck, the father of "Cool Jazz" or “West Coast Jazz”. He was 91 but had still been playing up until recently and still had that light and melodic touch when he played the piano.
I remember when he played the Chicago Jazz fest in September of 2001, just a week or so before the 9/11 tragedy. Dave was around 80 years old but being the wise man he was, he had several other pianists working with him and his band, including a boy of about 10 years old. Dave would start playing in his usual way and let his fellow musicians take over and he stayed on stage with the fellow jazz cats for the whole gig. It was a cool and cloudy night and Dave’s jazz just floated through the air that night.
Dave started a small revolution with his style of jazz in the late 1950’s with hits like “Take Five” &”Blue Rondo ala Turk”, it was an easier jazz yet no less complicated because Dave experimented with time signatures. A lot of jazz is played in 4/4 time and Dave would change that time even in the same song, which was unheard of.
He was the first jazz musician I studied at DePaul University (my sophomore year in music appreciation), and it was then that I really fell in love with jazz (though my mother had exposed to me to jazz years earlier), knowing the science of it and how someone like Dave who seemed so easy going and played such beautiful music was such a student of the music and challenged contemporary thought on how it was arranged.
I remember going to the old Tower Records on Belden & Clark in Lincoln Park many nights after class at DePaul going in that jazz room they had and picking up music by Dave, it was homework to study him but honestly an absolute joy to listen to his work and get into the intricate web of time, sound and rhythm that he used.
I guess in the 50’s some critics blew him off as just a fad (his early work topped the pop charts it was so dominant), and others wondered if he was “stealing our music” since he encroached on a music that was dominated by African Americans and Dave’s audience was largely white college students.
But Dave himself would say he was just about playing music, no color issues and though some like Art Blakey went out of their way to make sure jazz remained a black institution (by playing a harder driving style and giving songs ethnic names like “Cornbread”), still Dave played on.
Dave’s ballads are lush, with the romanticism of Miles Davis, the sophistication of John Coltrane but the ease of his native California; it was a combination that soothes me to this day.
Dave has a legacy that can’t be denied, almost 60 years of living the music, of bringing in younger generations to keep this music going (his “Young Lions & Old Tiger” CD’s are pure magic), and yet he never got caught up in controversy, he did the one thing that is lasting tribute to his work. He methodically and happily played the jazz he believed in