In his own sweet way
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For many, jazz is identified with Dave Brubeck's signature tune, 'Take Five'. Composed by the saxophonist Paul Desmond, it has the energy of a chase sequence, starting with a measured beat and building up to more frantic cadences. The 91-year-old pianist, who died on December 5, was the first jazz musician to feature on the cover of Time. 'Time Out', released in 1959, remains the highest selling jazz album till date. At a time when jazz was retreating into the experimentation of bebop — under Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane — Brubeck brought it back into the mainstream.
Brubeck's catchy, often anthemic, tunes are as hummable as pop songs, though they mask complex rhythm and chord structures, combining classical influences with big band and swing. Purists may disparage him, but there is a sweetness to Brubeck's tunes that will not be denied, that has charmed its way into audiences far beyond jazz's traditional pale. Maybe it was all the more poignant because Brubeck lived and played in turbulent times. During the Second World War, he played for soldiers at the front, and even the Cold War seemed to thaw under his tunes. Comedian Mort Sahl once said, "After John Foster Dulles visits a country, the State Department sends the Brubeck Quartet in to repair the damage." Gorbachev is said to have listened to his records "after a hard day's work", even though jazz was banned in the Soviet Union as "decadent music". When Brubeck visited the USSR in 1988, he was given a hero's welcome.
By the end of his life, Brubeck was the grand old man of jazz. With his death, no matter what the critics say, one of the greats has passed, and the musical form that he practised sinks further into nostalgia.
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