Top Musicians Honor Dave Brubeck


Dave Brubeck, 1920 – 2012


On December 5, 2012, legendary pianist Dave Brubeck passed away, one day before his 92nd birthday. His copious musical talent was matched only by his generosity of spirit and passion for inspiring others to play. We asked the musical community to share their memories of Mr. Brubeck and his music, and below are the first of many tributes that will be added to this page as we receive them. Rest in peace, Maestro. You are irreplaceable. --The Editors

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CLICK HERE to read our August 2007 cover story in its entirety.

CLICK HERE to get PDFs from that issue on how to play like Dave Brubeck.

The greatest impact Dave Brubeck had on me was making me unafraid to play in an odd meter. He made it cool, and his tone was as rich as the life he lived. He will be missed. —Greg Phillinganes

Dave was a pretty good horse rider in his time and would often come up with polyrhythmic themes while riding. He’d beat a rhythm against the galloping horse’s hooves—hence the groundbreaking time signatures. He was definitely an adventurer. Above all, he was a great friend and a hero to me. —Keith Emerson

The last time I got to see Dave Brubeck play was at Newport a few years ago, playing duo with Wynton Marsalis. He displayed such patience and beauty on the piano. I feel lucky to have witnessed such graceful mastery. —Gerald Clayton

I was completely blown away by his rhythmic explorations, as well as the elegance of his quartet. He thoroughly demonstrated that it’s possible to swing in an odd-metered groove, and he’s an ever-present influence in my piano playing and composing. —Michel Camilo

What set Dave Brubeck apart were his compositional skills. He always inspired me because he proved one doesn’t need to be the greatest virtuoso to create great chord sequences and solos. —Thomas Dolby

We often hear about Brubeck the composer, and rightly so. But I was always equally impressed by him as a pianist. He had such an adventurous spirit when he improvised. He played in the moment, relying on instinct rather than clichés. He had a gorgeous touch and a way of playing orchestrally, such as in his solo intro to “Strange Meadow Lark” from Time Out. He found a language all his own, borrowing from older jazz traditions while infusing them with abstraction, dissonance, high melodicism, and a great deal of thoughtfulness. —Larry Goldings

It was impossible to hear Brubeck live and not be moved. He had such joy at the piano, which came through the instrument straight through to the heart of the listener. On what would’ve been his 92nd birthday, my husband [jazz pianist] Bill Charlap and I found a Christmas card in the mail from Dave and his beautiful wife, Iola. We miss him very much, but his music will continue to light up the world, just as his presence did. —Renee Rosnes

Dave Brubeck always had an ear for what jazz could offer to the contemporary, classical, and world music elements he sought to integrate. This places him as a crucial voice in the tradition exemplified by Duke Ellington: that jazz can be at once both rigorous and joyous, challenging and communicative. I also played “Blue Rondo a la Turk” at my very first piano recital. Thank you, Mr. Brubeck! —Craig Taborn

Dave was an inspiration to me on every level. He was an innovator, a fantastic player, and he was constantly growing, expanding, and creating. He was an intellectual composer who could simultaneously fill you with wonder and awe. He left an enormous mark on the art of making music and will be sorely missed. —Andrew Dost(Fun.)

Although I’ve been very influenced by Dave Brubeck as a musician and the musical ideals that he embodied, Dave’s legacy, especially through the Brubeck Institute, has enabled musicians from all generations to meet, play, live, share, and grow together in a positive and creative environment. The musical and personal bonds that have been enabled by Dave, his work, and his music, and shared by thousands of people from all walks of life, are truly unsurpassed in the history of American music. He was a genre of one. —Dr. Joe Gilman (Artist in Residence, Brubeck Institute)

Dave Brubeck was the first jazz musician I ever encountered who successfully infused jazz with a classical aesthetic. For me, as a person who started as a classical musician, this had a huge impact on me, as it taught me that one didn’t have to be confined to a musical style within a musical idiom. That’s a huge epiphany when you’re in the early stages of development. Thank you for that, Mr. Brubeck. —Matt Beck (Matchbox Twenty, Rob Thomas, Rod Stewart, Spider-Man on Broadway)

Dave Brubeck has always been an inspiration to me with the new moods that he brought to jazz through experimentation with atypical time signatures and unique modes. He created a voice that will never again be matched. —Jacob Jones (Fictionist)

Brubeck had the amazing ability to integrate jazz and classical, technique and feel, in a brilliant way that was always moving. He exuded post-war optimism. A fantastic and unique artist.—David Baron

Dave’s musicality and time was always unsurpassed. He had a way of speaking through the piano that moved everyone. —Ricky Peterson (David Sanborn, Stevie Nicks)

Dave Brubeck was the first jazz pianist I heard, and I loved his music. His compositions were really original as was his playing. —Jason Rebello (Sting, Jeff Beck)

Brubeck's “In Your Own Sweet Way” is in my top five. While we all felt the influence of his monumental collaboration with Paul Desmond, the true depth of his genius extends way beyond the iconic “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk” He was a gifted performer and composer who always pushed the envelope in composing, whether for small group or large ensemble. Like Duke Ellington, Brubeck plays like a writer and writes like a player, and that’s what will always resonate with me. —Scott Healy (Keyboardist, Conan O’Brien band)

“Blue Rondo a la Turk” was my introduction to Brubeck, but when I heard his Jazz at Oberlin record it really gave me a sense of just how important his music had been to so many people for so long. His impact will live on for generations. —David Cook (Taylor Swift)

Dave Brubeck had a lyrical way of playing that made the piano sing and swing. It was apparent you were listening to a musician who was a composer at heart, and an amazing one at that! —Jonathan Hamby (Carrie Underwood)

Many of us were introduced to odd time signatures through Dave Brubeck. I discovered his music on a cassette compilation called Compact Jazz. “Take Five” was surely the first odd-meter song I practiced and played at jam sessions when I was a kid. Much of my music now has unusual meters and time modulations, and I’d have to say my interest in this concept was sparked by him. —Brian Charette (Jazz organist and regular Keyboard lesson contributor)

Dave Brubeck was a great human being, humanitarian, and musician. He made elegant and very musical jazz, and he was a big influence on me. Rest in peace. —Greg Wells (Katy Perry, Adele) 

Brubeck had an unmistakable and unique touch on piano. As a composer, he was years ahead of the current vogue of using odd-meters in progressive jazz. A true icon. —Michael Leonhart (Steely Dan, Donald Fagen)

Dave Brubeck was always an inspiration to me. The energy in his music was fueled by incredible rhythms and time signatures. He even incorporated Bulgarian rhythms into his alluring written and improvised Jazz melodies. May he rest in peace. —Tania Stavreva (classical pianist)

Dave Brubeck was definitely a part of my jazz universe, particularly in high school when I discovered Time Out. I loved “Take Five” of course, but “Blue Rondo a la Turk” really opened my eyes and ears to a more compositionally complex type of jazz. When I was in high school, my jazz bandmate Eric Felten and I got to “open” for Dave in Phoenix—actually, we just played in the lobby before the show! We played piano/trombone duo and we even got Dave’s autograph. I'll never forget it. —Matt Rollings

Dave was a pioneer in bringing jazz to a wider audience. People who didn’t know much about jazz became more aware of the technical and emotional qualities that it had to offer. My condolences to Dave’s family, and may his spirit shine forever. —Delmar Brown

In the heyday of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, the band enjoyed their greatest success in a manner that strikes me as counterintuitive by releasing an album characterized by a repertoire of original tunes with odd time signatures. Amazingly, that album became very popular, achieving startling commercial success seldom seen from a jazz band in that rock-drenched era. I think their phenomenal acceptance by a young, eclectic audience helped spawn a whole new generation of jazz fans. —Mike Finnigan (Jimi Hendrix, Bonnie Raitt)

I was always inspired by Dave’s laconic, deliberate, compositional approach to phrasing. His playing was incredibly transparent, and every note mattered a great deal. —Daniel Mintseris (St. Vincent, Marianne Faithfull)

He was a Pathfinder, a pusher of boundaries. Music first, Jazz second. —Mike Lindup (Level 42)

Mr. Brubeck was a class act who followed his own star the whole way. —Helen Sung (jazz pianist)

Dave Brubeck was one of the first jazz pianists I ever heard. The song was “Take Five.” I don’t remember how I got the record, but I remember thinking how cool the entire album was, and still is. Brubeck was the first jazz musician I heard play in odd time signatures, but he did it in a way that the groove was never lost and the melody was still in the forefront. A few years back, I was playing in a club and there was a video screen playing his group from years ago. It was in black and white and he was killing. He was playing the song “In Your Own Sweet Way,” which is one of my favorite songs to play. He wrote great songs with beautiful melodies and rich harmonies. He was a true legend in music.

—Joey Calderazzo (Branford Marsalis)