Dave Brubeck, the jazz musician heralded for defying convention and experimenting with complex rhythms, has died in Norwalk, Connecticut - he was 91. Brubeck, who would have turned 92 on Thursday (December 6, 2012), gained pop star-like acclaim for recordings including Take Five, and Blue Rondo a la Turk. He died of heart failure en route to "a regular treatment with his cardiologist," according to his long-time manager and producer Russell Gloyd, who spoke with the Chicago Tribune.
Eschewing conventional swing rhythms, Brubeck's work was admired outside of jazz circles and he took his mix elegant sound to colleges in the 1950s, smashing to pieces he long-held notion that jazz had no place in academia. In the 60s, he achieved phenomenal success with The Dave Brubeck Quartet, selling millions of albums whilst playing with the likes of Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. The group's 1959 album Time Out spawned Take That, the biggest selling jazz single of all time, still used in countless television programmes and movies, among them the BBC's Secret Life of Machines and NBC's Today programme. It has been covered by the likes of Al Jarreau, George Benson, Quincy Jones and The Specials. The track is generally considered to be the first jazz competition to achieve mainstream significance, reaching No.25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and breaking the Top 5 on Billboard's Easy Listening survey - a precursor to the now Adult Contemporary chart. Ironically, the track wasn't even written by Brubeck - the hefty royalty cheques were picked up by saxophonist Paul Desmond before his death in 1977. He left the royalties for performances and compositions of Take Five to the American Red Cross, which has since received around $100,000 per year.
In later years, Brubeck composed music for operas and ballet while performing for several world leaders. In 1988, he played for Mikhail Gorbachev at a Moscow dinner hosted by then-President Ronald Reagan. "I can't understand Russian, but I can understand body language," Brubeck said after seeing the general secretary tapping his foot. The jazz legend was still touring in 2009 at the age of 88 and was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honours later that year. The same honor was bestowed upon Led Zeppelin this week.
Watch The Dave Brubeck Quartet's Take Five Below: