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The jazz pianist Dave Brubeck is widely regarded as one of the great pioneers of cool jazz. In this blog post, we’ll be diving into five essential Dave Brubeck albums.

Born in 1920 in California, Dave Brubeck had music in his DNA, literally. His mother was an accomplished classical pianist, and Dave began piano lessons at age four. Even his older brothers were gifted and would become professional musicians.

Although his instructors worked to teach Dave to read music, he was reluctant. He relied upon his keen ear that enabled him to pick up melodies and chord progressions with ease.

In his teen years, Brubeck performed with local bands to make extra money since he had his sights set on veterinary college.

While attending university, he performed on the side to make ends meet, but when his professors watched him perform and noted his enthusiasm and talent, they encouraged him to change majors.

One wonders what would have happened in the world of jazz if they had stayed quiet.

The Second World War interrupted Dave’s music studies. He joined the army and served under General Patton. He would have fought in the Battle of the Bulge if it weren’t for the Red Cross needing him to entertain the troops with his playing.

While in the army, Brubeck formed an ensemble called ‘The Wolf Pack’, a trendsetting band consisting of both white and black musicians during a time when the military was largely segregated.

It was also monumental because it connected Bruceck with the alto saxophonist Paul Desmond who would become a long-time collaborator.

After an honourable discharge from the service in 1946, Dave enrolled in Mills College in California. He studied under famed French composer Darius Milhaud who appreciated jazz and compositions with off meters.

The connection was made between teacher and student, and the seed was planted. While in school, Brubeck formed his first jazz band, The Dave Brubeck Octet, but the music was too avant-garde for most listeners.

Always the innovator, Dave streamlined the band down to a trio and recorded an album on Fantasy Records. The group received favourable reviews and created a strong following in the Bay Area.

It wasn’t until 1951 that Dave Brubeck zeroed in on his trademark style and ensemble. Re-enter Paul Desmond on alto whose laid-back approach to jazz improvisation mirrored Dave’s.

The rhythm section was a revolving door until the late 50s when drummer Joe Morello and bassist Eugene Wright locked down the positions. The rest, as they say, is history.

Not only was Dave Brubeck a pioneer of the Cool Jazz sound, but with his connection with college students, he became popular across college campuses.

The result was making jazz a more popular art form which earned Dave the honour of being the second jazz musician to appear on the cover of Time magazine in 1954.

Dave Brubeck gained commercial success and became an international star. He dissolved the quartet in 1967 to compose longer, more diverse works of music.

Over the years, Brubeck vested himself into a myriad of groups and various styles of music composition. In his lifetime, he received two citations from two Presidents, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a lifetime achievement award from the Smithsonian, and countless other honours.

The jazz legend died of heart failure in 2012, a day before his 92nd birthday, however, Brubeck’s legacy continues to live on to this day.

Here are just a few timeless works from the legendary jazz musician.

Jazz at Oberlin (Fantasy Records, 1953)

Jazz at Oberlin is one of the first recordings of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. It features the classic lineup, and although there are only five songs, the cuts are extended, which allows the members to swing and improvise at leisure.

Time Out (Columbia Records, 1959)

A list of the best Dave Brubeck albums wouldn’t be complete without this seminal recording.

‘Time Out’ features the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s classic lineup and includes their iconic hit, ‘Take Five’ which is now regarded as a jazz standard.

Brubeck wrote all the songs on the LP except for ‘Take Five’, which Paul Desmond composed. The play-on-words in the title references the 5/4 meter which was uncommon in the jazz music of the time. Time Out was the first jazz album to sell over a million copies.

Brubeck & Rushing (Columbia Records, 1960)This recording features the original Dave Brubeck Quartet along with blues singer Jimmy Rushing. The album explores the cooler side of the blues while exhibiting contagious energy.

Live at Carnegie Hall (Columbia, 1963)

There’s nothing like a live album to capture the nuances and diversity musicians bring when performing in person.

This double album is masterfully recorded and features the Dave Brubeck Quartet at its peak. The recording is rich with extended solos and all of Brubeck’s classic works.

Live at the Berlin Philharmonic (Legacy Records, 1970)

The double disk recording features drummer Alan Dawson and bassist Jack Six.

Together, they provide the solid foundations for Brubeck to interact with baritone sax legend Gerry Mulligan.

These five Dave Brubeck albums are merely a snapshot of Brubeck’s musical genius and are a great springboard into his brilliance as a composer and improviser.

Want to discover more about the greats of cool jazz? Check out our top ten Stan Getz albums or take a look at our rundown of the greatest cool jazz albums and artists of all time.

Discover Jazz
Discover Jazz

The label ‘Discover Jazz’ is attached to articles which have been edited and published by Jazzfuel host Matt Fripp, but have been written in collaboration with various different jazz musicians and industry contributors. When appropriate, these musicians are quoted and name-checked inside the article itself!