“I insisted that we go with something new,” he said. “And to their surprise, it became the biggest jazz recording they ever made.”
The album opens with “Blue Rondo a la Turk” in 9/8 time — nine beats to the measure instead of the customary two, three or four beats — blending these folk rhythms with jazz and a Mozart piece. The piece was inspired by Turkish street musicians Brubeck heard on a 1958 State Department tour that also took his quartet to Poland, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran, among other countries.
The album also features “Take Five,” the cool and catchy odd-metered tune that became the Brubeck quartet’s signature and even made the Billboard singles chart. The tune was derived from a pattern that the quartet’s drummer Joe Morello liked to play backstage. Brubeck asked alto saxophonist Paul Desmond to write a two-part melody over the rhythm, and Brubeck patched the pieces together.
“It was a song that people could relate to, and it influenced the future of the music,” said George Wein, a jazz pianist and founder of the Newport Jazz Festival.
Brubeck always felt that his successful jazz career led fans to overlook the second career he launched as a jazz-inspired classical orchestral and choral composer in 1967 after disbanding his classic quartet.
Brubeck’s experience in World War II led him to look beyond jazz to compose oratorios, cantatas and other extended works touching on themes involving the church, civil rights and peace.
“I knew I wanted to write on religious themes when I was a GI in World War II,” said Brubeck in 2005, recalling how he was trapped behind German lines in the Battle of the Bulge and nearly killed. “I saw and experienced so much violence that I thought I could express my outrage best with music.”
Brubeck interest in classical music was inspired by his mother, Elizabeth Ivey Brubeck, a classical pianist, who was initially disappointed by her youngest son’s interest in jazz. She later came to appreciate his music.
Born in Concord, Calif., on Dec. 6. 1920, Brubeck began piano lessons with his mother at age four, but those ended when he was 12 and his father moved the family to a cattle ranch in the foothills of the Sierras. As a teenager, he played in local dance bands on the weekends.
When he enrolled at the College of the Pacific in 1938, Brubeck had intended to major in veterinary medicine and return to ranching. But while working his way through college by playing piano in local nightclubs, he became smitten with jazz and changed his major to music. In 1942, he married Iola Whitlock, a fellow student who became his lifelong partner, librettist, and sometime manager.
Brubeck joined the Army as an infantry man, but ended up leading the semi-official Wolf Pack band attached to Gen. George S. Patton’s army. They played popular standards as well as some of his first original jazz tunes, including “We Crossed the Rhine,” based on the rhythm of trucks hitting the metal pontoon bridges as the entered Germany. His band, which was one of the first integrated units in the then-segregated Army, reopened the Opera House in Nuremberg, the site of mass rallies organized by the Nazis, who had also banned jazz.
After his discharge, he enrolled at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. That’s where he formed an octet, including Desmond on alto sax, Dave van Kreidt on tenor sax, Cal Tjader on drums and Bill Smith on clarinet. The group played Brubeck originals and standards by other composers. Their ground breaking album “Dave Brubeck Octet” was recorded in 1946.
In 1949, Brubeck with Tjader and bassist Ron Crotty, both fellow octet members, formed a more commercially viable trio and cut their first records, which gained a national audience. After surviving a near-fatal diving accident in 1951, Brubeck formed a quartet by adding Desmond.
“No one else played like Dave Brubeck,” said Wein, who had known Brubeck since he first worked in Wein’s club in Boston in 1952. “No one had the approach to the music that he did. That approach communicated.”
• Associated Press writer Michelle R. Smith in Providence and the late AP writer Mary Campbell contributed to this report.