Upon just hearing a few notes of his astronomically famous piece “Take Five,” one would never guess that the man designated a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, Mr. Dave Brubeck had never mastered the art of reading sheet music. Called one of the undisputed “vanguard[s] of the so-called West Coast school of cool jazz in the 50’s,” by Acrobat Music on their release of this fascinating vintage collection of rare live broadcasts, he eventually became the first jazz artist to “sell over a million copies” with his 1959 recording Time Out.
Having been born into a musical California family, beginning “piano lessons with his mother at the age of four” and performing “in local dance bands” at the age of fourteen, originally his vocational goal was to study veterinary medicine to help out on his family’s ranch. However, while earning enough to fund his studies with music, he changed his tune (so to speak) and discovered “the lure of jazz” was so undeniable that he switched majors but was nearly kicked out of the University of the Pacific when one of the professors uncovered his secret that he couldn’t read sheet music. Having blamed poor eyesight as a kid, luckily “several of his professors came forward” on his behalf and eventually he graduated but only with the condition that he promise he would never “teach piano.”
While it’s incredible to believe that one of America’s most naturally gifted pianists wouldn’t be allowed to educate another generation directly, Brubeck found a way to inspire on his own. Returning from World War II with his fellow soldier Paul Desmond. they banded together later to form a musical quartet. Following advanced education at Mills College with Professor Darius Milhaud “who encouraged [Brubeck]… to study fugue and orchestration but not classical piano,” Brubeck managed to arrange his own entirely unique brand of jazz.
With a musical penchant of employing “unusual time signatures,” Brubeck experimented with this throughout the rest of his career whether it was offering listeners unorthodox pieces performed in 5/4, 6/4, 7/4 or 9/8 time. Yet, surprisingly his own interest in mixing things up didn’t make him nearly the acquired taste that some of his other contemporaries were. By serving up his own individual brand of cool, sophisticated, almost classical sounding jazz, or “jazz for the rest of us,” he was far more mainstream than most of his colleagues and the proof wasn’t only in the sales of Time Out but also by finding his portrait on the cover of Time Magazine in 1954.