All that jazz

December 7, 2012 

Oh, he was a swingin’ cat. The coolest, maybe. Dave Brubeck, the jazz pianist and innovator, was 91 when he died Wednesday, and it hadn’t been that long since he’d been a regular player in big shows. And thanks to Brubeck, many jazz musicians of this and a couple of previous generations now play auditoriums considerably bigger than those dark clubs of Greenwich Village.

They knew Brubeck was “the man.” In fact, while his heart was giving out, famous players were already headed to Connecticut to celebrate his birthday (he would have been 92 Thursday) with a concert that was slated to go on anyway in Brubeck’s honor.

Brubeck didn’t go into jazz as a starving artist. The native of rural California was a World War II veteran, a college graduate who studied his craft almost religiously, constantly encouraging innovation. He traveled the country with the Dave Brubeck Quartet in various incarnations, and saw music as a great equalizer and civilizer. He played with black musicians and was distressed with the indignities of segregation in the 1940s onward.

Brubeck also appeared on television, unusual for jazz artists in those days, and helped to “popularize” jazz, though he surely would have hated that term.

North Carolina had a Brubeck connection of sorts, in that the state was home to or connected in some way to many jazz musicians, including Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Nina Simone, among others.

At one time or another, Dave Brubeck crossed paths with most of the jazz greats of his day, and appreciated their work as they appreciated his. He was a high profile player because of television and innovative recordings, but he also never left his early roots behind.

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