CLEVELAND - When I heard the news that the jazz great had died, my heart skipped a beat. For years, my heart had been beating in 5/4 time. With the death of David Warren Brubeck a day away from what would have been his 92nd birthday, music lost one of its great composers.
It was Brubeck who helped usher me into jazz. I was 17 when I bought my first jazz album. Weeks later, I found Dave Brubeck and my life took a major turn. Jazz would be the music to which I listened most, to which I often wrote, to which I wooed the girls in my high school and college.
Thursday, I went back to some of my old vinyl cuts and savored Brubeck's "Take Five," "Blue Rondo Ala Turk" and several others. Brubeck and his long-time musical partner, alto saxophonist Paul Desmand, wrote the melody for the Dave Brubeck Quartet's best remembered piece, "Take Five." Its narcotic 5/4 time has endured as a jazz classic.
In the 1960s, with Brubeck's music on my phonograph, I was finding my stride as a young man. He helped me find my own rhythm in life. In my senior year of high school and throughout my college years, Brubeck was among the many jazz artists to which my friends and I listened. For us, jazz was the ultimate cool and the music helped us set our paces in life. Just as we young college men were fueled by the sartorial styles exemplified by Hugh Hefner, John Kennedy, Miles Davis, Esquire Magazine, the Rat Pack, we were fueled by jazz with its sounds.
Sometimes the sounds were up-tempo. Sometimes they were laid back. The music could be hard and driving or it could be West Coast Cool. The music was the soundtrack of our young lives. It is still the case for me all these years later.
It was Dave Brubeck who was one of the ingredients in the fuel on which we fed. As I listen to his music today, my minds runs back to my coming-of-age years when I was finding my own pathways into adulthood. It was Brubeck who was among that cadre of jazz greats who helped me appreciate America's classical music -- jazz.
During my time in the U.S. Army, I went to a Dave Brubeck Quartet concert at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In 1967, on a stage on the military post, Brubeck, Desmond, Joe Morello and Gene Wright laid out a wicked 5/4 beat for "Take Five" and shook the entire post. It was dynamite. I was young. And the planets seemed to line up in wonderful order.
A day away from what would have been his 92nd birthday, the fingers of the great Dave Brubeck are now still. However, his music lasts and will last into future generations. Tonight, I will put an old vinyl record on my old turntable and listen to one of the first albums I ever purchased. I have lots of CD recordings of Brubeck, but I want to savor the music exactly the way I first heard it when I was a teenager.
I thank Dave Brubeck for all that he did. And for all that he still does for me.