A Piano Stands Silenced


The passing of composer, pianist and bandleader Dave Brubeck -- a sturdy fixture on the jazz landscape since World War II, before many of his fans (including me) were born -- on Dec. 5, the day before his 92nd birthday, leaves this landscape feeling unsettled. It's like one of the faces on Mount Rushmore is missing.

There are many landmarks to admire in Brubeck's storied career: Early live recordings such as 1953's Jazz At Oberlin and Jazz At The College Of The Pacific recorded at Brubeck's alma mater a few months later; the historic overview 50 Years Of Dave Brubeck: Recorded Live At The Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-2007; the solo holiday postcard A Dave Brubeck Christmas; and the indispensable sound of Paul Desmond's alto sax, a warm breeze that softly carried Brubeck's music up toward heaven.

Dave Brubeck possessed enormous musical talent, but his heart for music was even bigger. The discipline and structure of his music was generally attributed to the influence of modern classicists, especially Darius Milhaud, under whom he studied (see, for example, Classical Brubeck with the London Symphony Orchestra and London Voices). But Brubeck held a strong romantic belief in his music, too. "One of the reasons I believe in jazz is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart," he said in a 2006 interview. "It's the same anyplace in the world, that heartbeat."

If there ever is a jazz Mount Rushmore, you can bet Dave Brubeck's smiling face will grace it.