His manager, Russell Gloyd, confirmed Brubeck died on his way to a doctor’s appointment. He played the music he loved almost to his dying day. The jazz legend’s final performance was in July.
Brubeck was one of the first to integrate his band with black musicians. If concert organizers objected, Brubeck would threaten to cancel the show. Several times, he had to make good on the threat. The pianist taught himself to play by listening to music. His mother, a classical pianist, attempted to teach Brubeck how to read sheet music. But his bad eyesight made it a task she couldn’t finish. He needed huge glasses, which would become a trademark of his.
Though he couldn’t read music, the young Brubeck learned to make his own. He told biographer Doug Ramsey he even practiced music while on horseback.
“The gait was usually a fast walk, maybe a trot,” he said. “And I would sing against that constant gait of the horse. … There was nothing to do but think, and I’d improvise melodies and rhythms.”
That’s a guy working with an entirely different set of skills than your average piano man.
Brubeck’s signature work was the 1959 pop hit “Take Five” from the album “Time Out.” He experimented with time signatures other than the 4/4 beat and 3/4 waltz commonly used during the era. It was so unique Columbia Records blocked its release for almost a year. They weren’t the only ones who didn’t get it. Brubeck told Hedrick Smith that after a live performance the band was particularly proud of, a critic wrote that the band “couldn’t even keep time together.” He didn’t realize they were playing that way on purpose.
“Time Out” went on to become the first million-selling jazz LP and is still one of jazz’s all-time best sellers.