Dave Brubeck on the cover of Time, November 1954 (source: Time)
He was born in Concord where he grew up on a 45,000 acre cattle ranch. He attended college at the College of the Pacific in Stockton where he performed in jazz groups. Later joined the army infantry and went to Europe as a part of Patton's Third Army. There his musical talent was discovered and he formed a racially integrated band that entertained the troops, often not very far from the fighting.
After the war, he returned to the Bay Area and performed in a jazz combos at venues like the Geary Cellar (beneath the Geary Theatre), the Bandbox in Palo Alto and Burma Lounge in Oakland. He soon attended Mills College on the GI Bill where his composition teacher was Darius Milhaud. Milhaud, an innovative French composer who had long incorporated jazz and ragtime in his own compositions, encouraged Brubeck and some of his classmates to form an jazz ensemble - an octet they called "the eight." Milhaud encouraged them to perform at an assembly at Mills. It was such a success that they were invited to many other campuses and achieved an early reputation among the college crowd.
From this time he became a famous exemplar of "West Coast Jazz," a genre thought to be more cool and cerebral than mainstream jazz. Nevertheless, Brubeck felt a deep connection to traditional jazz and its roots. While his biographers emphasize his accomplishments in nightclubs and concert halls, Brubeck in a 1992 interview wanted to remind people that he had also played at so-called "bad joints," what he called "Dime-a-Dance halls in Oakland" and "strip joints in San Francisco."
In this interview he went on to speak to his attraction to this music:
That's the great thing about the freedom of jazz. It can come from a tune with no chord progressions here, or just from the piano and suddenly the vibrations are coming from maybe the piano, or the bass, or from the drums, or even a cymbal, and that'll make everybody click in. You can't predict anything about jazz from night to night.While he is best known for his combo work, Brubeck also used his training to compose works for classical music forces. In response to a 1950 survey used by the Northern California Chapter of the Music Library Association for a never published biographical dictionary of composers, Brubeck wrote of his musical viewpoint:
Since I am first a jazz musician, it is especially challenging to me to attempt to capture the vitality, rhythic drive, and free spirit of an Afro-European improvised music, to write it down as sound composition without losing the spontaneity of improvisation.
The following is brief reading list, plus a listing of Brubeck scores in our collection.
Dave Brubeck, Improvisations and Compositions: The Idea of Cultural Exchange: With Discography by Ilse Storb and Klaus-G. Fischer; translated by Bert Thompson (P. Lang, c1994).
"Dave Brubeck, Short Talk taken and transcribed by Bill Leikam," Cadence vol. 18, no. 9 (September 1992), pp. 4-5. From the Art, Music and Recreation Center Newspaper Clipping Files.
It's About Time: The Dave Brubeck Story by Fred M. Hall (University of Arkansas Press, 1996).
Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond by Doug Ramsey, with a foreword by Dave and Iola Brubeck (Parkside Publications, 2005).
West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960 by Ted Gioia (University of California Press, 1998).
Why Jazz Happened by Marc Myers (University of California Press, 2013).
Brubeck and More: 9 Jazz Standards for Rhythm Section: Piano, Bass and Drumset (Alfred Music Pub. Co., 2010). - includes a companion CD for play-along
Chromatic Fantasy Sonata: Inspired by J.S. Bach by Dave Brubeck (Derry Music, 1994).
Dave Brubeck at the Piano (Alfred Pub. Co., 2008). - transcription and arrangements for piano with fingering.
Dave Brubeck's Two-part Adventures: Original Two-part Arrangements (Warner Bros. Publications, 1999).
La Fiesta de la Posada: A Christmas Choral Pageant / music by Dave Brubeck; text by Iola Brubeck (Shawnee Press, 1976).
The Gates of Justice: A Cantata for Tenor and Baritone Soloists, Mixed Chorus, and Organ, or Brass and Percussion Ensemble with Optional Keyboard Improvisation / music by Dave Brubeck (St. Francis Music Co., 1970) - this work dating from 1969 features a text adapted from the Hebrew Bible, the Union Prayer Book of Reform Judaism and the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the writings of Hillel, and was written to unite African Americans and Jewish people in the interest of Civil Rights
The Light in the Wilderness: An Oratorio for Mixed Chorus, Baritone Solo, and Organ (supplementary string bass and percussion, optional) or Symphony Orchestra with Optional Keyboard Improvisation / music by Dave Brubeck (St. Francis Music Co., 1968).
The Genius of Dave Brubeck: Piano Solos. Book 1; piano solos transcribed by Howard Brubeck (Alfred Pub. Co., 2008).
Glances: Suite for Solo Piano by Dave Brubeck (Warner Bros., 1995).
In Your Own Sweet Way: Play-A-Long Book and CD Set for All Instrumentalists by Dave Brubeck (Jamey Aebersold Jazz, 2003).
Jazz Impressions of New York by Dave Brubeck; arranged by Howard Brubeck for easy piano (E.B. Marks Music Corp., 1964).
Nocturnes: Piano Solos by Dave Brubeck (Warner Bros. Publications, 1997).
Points on Jazz: Jazz Ballet for Two Pianos / Four Hands by Dave Brubeck (CPP/Belwin, 1993).
Time Out / The Dave Brubeck Quartet; Piano Solos (Alfred Music Pub. Co., 2009)
Tritonis by Dave Brubeck (Warner Bros., 1995).