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December 5, 2012

Jazz composer, pianist Dave Brubeck leaves remarkable musical legacy

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“When you start out with goals — mine were to play polytonally and polyrhythmically — you never exhaust that,” Brubeck told The Associated Press in 1995. “I started doing that in the 1940s. It’s still a challenge to discover what can be done with just those two elements.”

After service in World War II and study at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., Brubeck formed an octet including Desmond on alto sax and Dave van Kreidt on tenor, Cal Tjader on drums and Bill Smith on clarinet. The group played Brubeck originals and standards by other composers, including some early experimentation in unusual time signatures. Their groundbreaking album “Dave Brubeck Octet” was recorded in 1946.

The group evolved into the Quartet, which played colleges and universities. The Quartet’s first album, “Jazz at Oberlin,” was recorded live at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1953.

Ten years later, Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on bass joined with Brubeck and Desmond to produce “Time Out.”

In later years Brubeck composed music for operas, ballet, even a contemporary Mass.

In 1988, he played for Mikhail Gorbachev, at a dinner in Moscow that then-President Ronald Reagan hosted for the Soviet leader.

“I can’t understand Russian, but I can understand body language,” said Brubeck, after seeing the general secretary tapping his foot.

In the late 1980s, Brubeck contributed music for one episode of an eight-part series of television specials, “This Is America, Charlie Brown.”

His music was for an episode involving NASA and the space station. He worked with three of his sons — Chris on bass trombone and electric bass, Dan on drums and Matthew on cello — and included excerpts from his Mass “To Hope! A Celebration,” his oratorio “A Light in the Wilderness,” and a piece he had composed but never recorded, “Quiet As the Moon.”

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