Dave Brubeck, 88, has been piling up the honors and achievements over the last couple of decades:
• A Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
• Induction into Downbeat’s Jazz Hall of Fame.
• Induction into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.
• A National Medal of the Arts award.
He still tours regularly with his quartet – Bobby Militello on sax and flute, Michael Moore on bass and Randy Jones on drums – with whom he will perform in Spokane on Tuesday.
Yet there is no question that Brubeck is still best known for an album recorded 50 years ago, the hugely influential “Time Out.”
It was 1959 and this California-bred pianist was already a top-selling jazzman, having put three albums in Top 10 – remarkable for jazz artists even in those days.
Yet Brubeck’s label was nervous about “Time Out,” because it contained only original compositions – hardly a recipe for commercial jazz success.
In addition, most of the pieces were in unusual, if not bizarre, time signatures. One tune, “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” began in 9/8 time, common only in Turkish music (thus the title). Another, in 5/4 time, was fittingly named “Take Five.”
But these innovative compositions captured the ears of the public, partly because of the wild rhythms. The album took off, mainly on the strength of the two tunes mentioned above.
“Time Out” went to No. 2 on the album charts in 1960 and became a leading example of the genre called, somewhat misleadingly, cool jazz.
It stayed on the charts for 86 weeks and was a staple of dorm-room record collections. “College jazz” was another term used in connection with Brubeck’s music (a 1957 album was titled “Jazz Goes to Junior College”).
The album made stars out of Brubeck and the rest of what came to be called his “classic” quartet: Paul Desmond on sax, Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on bass. It remains one of the most popular jazz albums of all time.
The AllMusic guide says “it belongs in even the most rudimentary jazz collection.” A 50th anniversary edition was released by Sony in May.
His chart success dropped off following “Time Out” and the “classic” quartet disbanded in 1967, yet Brubeck’s prodigious creativity certainly did not fade.
Besides maintaining a steady touring and recording schedule, Brubeck moved into long-form composition, and not just jazz composition.
He put his classical training to work (he studied for a time under Darius Milhaud at Mills College) and began composing works including an oratorio titled “The Light in the Wilderness,” based on the teachings of Jesus; “The Gates of Justice,” based on the words of Martin Luther King Jr.; and “The Truth is Fallen,” a cantata about the Kent State shootings.
In 2006, he wrote a jazz opera titled “Cannery Row” based on the John Steinbeck novel, which debuted at the Monterey Jazz Festival.
Brubeck still loves to return to his performing roots, pounding the 88s at age 88 with three talented collaborators.
His show at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox is one of eight shows scheduled in September alone. Brubeck is in no mood to take five.
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