RIP: Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck, one of history’s finest jazz musicians, died Wednesday morning at Norwalk Hospital, in Norwalk, Conn., said his longtime manager-producer-conductor Russell Gloyd. He was 91.

As a pianist, he applied the classical influences of his teacher, the French master Darius Milhaud, to jazz, playing with an elegance of tone and phrase that supposedly were the antithesis of the American sound.

As a humanist, he was at the forefront of integration, playing black jazz clubs throughout the deep South in the ’50s, a point of pride for him.

“For as long as I’ve been playing jazz, people have been trying to pigeonhole me,” he once told the Tribune.

“Frankly, labels bore me.”

I had the delightful pleasure of seeing Brubeck and his quartet in concert about a decade ago. He looked physically fragile at the time, decked out in a thick neck brace, but man could he tickle those ivories like nobody else. What I remember most clearly was his delight of being able to play for an audience, never once shedding an ear-to-ear grin.

He totally blew me away in every sense of the word with his showmanship, his musicality, his ability to fill the space in between notes, and for letting the other musicians have the spotlight. Brubeck’s greatness was in not having to prove his greatness at the sake of his band mates. But boy did he let it fly when it was his turn to.

He’ll perhaps always be remembered for “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk” but I always had an affinity for “Take the A Train”.

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