As our music media continues to focus on Taylor Swift's hotel room sleepovers and Shakira's $100 million dollar lawsuit, a major, mind-numbingly influential figure has passed in our midst.
Dave Brubeck, one America's greatest cultural treasures—the man who got late-50s America dancing in 5/4 time with Paul Desmond's seminal track "Take Five"—died today of heart failure, a single day ahead of his 92nd birthday.
Maybe you haven't heard of Dave Brubeck, and unless you sat through hours of jazz appreciation class in high school, we can't really blame you. Pop music fans have a nasty habit of writing jazz off completely, mostly because it's such a dauntingly rich and nuanced genre. But until you've sunk your teeth into the untouchable discography of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, you probably should take a pass on illegally downloading the next Purity Ring single--no offense Corin and Megan!
More than almost anyone else, Brubeck redefined the role of the jazz musician, and walked through the walls hemming in standard conceptions of genre as if they weren't even there. He was a classically trained pianist who brought his talent to jazz, and almost single handedly proved that jazz was an idiom that deserves a place among the highest forms of art.
What blows my mind about Brubeck has always been "Take Five." It's a melody that's existed in my brain since before I can remember, like the Mario theme or the Crossfire commercial. What's so spectacular about the piece is that it's in 5/4, a time signature which almost no pop music even begins to touch (besides Sunny Day Real Estate). The reason no one touches it is because it's just not catchy. With "Take Five," Brubeck and Desmond managed to create a melody everyone knows, in a time signature no one understands. It's more than just an achievement, it's a challenge to take your audience more seriously. Even if Brubeck's catalog had begun and ended with "Take Five," his impact on the music world would still resonate well beyond that of many of his contemporaries (and successors) combined. Magic.
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