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Jazz great Dave Brubeck dead at 91

New York, Dec 6, 2012 (AFP) 14:21 IST
Jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, who tinkered masterfully with rhythm and style and won millions of new fans around the world for the quintessentially American musical genre, has died of heart failure at the age of 91.

A day shy of his 92nd birthday, Brubeck yesterday died in a hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut, his manager Russell Gloyd told AFP. Brubeck won a slew of awards over the course of a career that spanned more than six decades. He was still playing as recently as last year. He played at the White House for presidents and visiting dignitaries, and was designated a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress.

Brubeck's 1959 album "Time Out" became the first million- selling jazz record of the modern era, as songs "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" defied the indifference of critics to become classics in the genre.

A big party had been planned for this Sunday to celebrate Brubeck's 92nd birthday, but he fell ill yesterday and his son called for an ambulance, which took him to the emergency room.

"They came up later and said we just can't keep this heart going," Gloyd said. Brubeck's success cemented his reputation as one of the great popularizers in the history of jazz, after years of nudging the music into mainstream culture by relentlessly performing on university campuses.

His Dave Brubeck Quartet also toured the world on behalf of the United States government, becoming so popular in Europe and Asia that it was said that when Washington needed to fix up damage somewhere, they sent in Brubeck.

According to Brubeck's website, highlights of his career include the premiere of his composition "Upon this Rock" for then Pope John Paul II's visit to San Francisco, California in 1987.

His accolades included receiving the National Medal of Arts from then president Bill Clinton in 1994; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences; and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Brubeck himself once described his approach thusly: "There's a way of playing safe, there's a way of using tricks and there's the way I like to play, which is dangerously, where you're going to take a chance on making mistakes in order to create something you haven't created before."

Over the course of his career he also experimented with integrating jazz into classical forms. In 1959 his quartet played and recorded with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, and a year later he composed "Points on Jazz" for the American Ballet Theater.

Born on December 6, 1920 in Concord, California, Brubeck at age four was improvising tunes from the classical pieces he was taught by his piano teacher mother. But he dreamed of being a rancher like his father, and went to university to become a veterinarian, only to transfer to the music department when a teacher noticed he spent all class staring out the window at the conservatory.

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