Farewell, Dave Brubeck

The jazz musician had a singular and irreplaceable sound.

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In this photo provided by the State Department, Legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, 87, stands after performing his improvisational piece "Dziekuje" ("Thank you," in Polish) for an audience at the State Department Tuesday, April 8, 2008. Brubeck was honored by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for a half-century of service as a public diplomacy envoy, 50 years after making his first trip to then-communist eastern Europe to promote American ideals through jazz. "Jazz was the voice of freedom and it still is," Brubeck said after the ceremony. Rice said she had grown up on Brubeck's music "because my dad was your biggest fan. I want to thank you for your patriotism and your leadership in representing America by introducing the language, the sounds and the spirit of jazz to new generations around the world."

Several years and a few jobs ago—way back in the early '00s—my boss called me into his office and asked if I had any interest in tickets he couldn't use to see the Dave Brubeck Quartet perform at George Washington University. I expressed amazement that Dave Brubeck was still alive—and then eagerly snatched up the tickets.

Not by any stretch a jazz aficionado, I had years before been surprised that the catchy tune from those old, creepy Nissan commercials was in fact a legendary song in its own right. I'll leave it to others more skilled in writing about music to describe its genius, but suffice it to say that very quickly after I finally did purchase Time Out just on the strength of "Take Five," it became (and has remained) a staple of my musical rotation.

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In any case, when I found out that the Brubeck Quartet was not only alive but still performing, I jumped at the chance to see them. I dragged along my girlfriend, who knew as little or less about jazz than I.

I am still struck not only the energy the four aging musicians on the stage displayed but by the utter delight they clearly took in their music. This was not a group hanging on to relive old glory—they were having the time of their lives.

They played their standards, including, of course, "Take Five," as well as selections from what was then their forthcoming album, The Crossing. Brubeck introduced one especially soulful song as "All My Love," a romantic musical epistle to his wife (now widow) Iola. It was such a tender, expressive song that my girlfriend whispered to me that if we ever chanced to marry we should use it as our first dance at the wedding.

We did and we did.

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I suppose that that is part of the reason the news today of Dave Brubeck's passing so saddens me. A singular and irreplaceable note has sounded its last.

Farewell, Dave Brubeck.

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  • Corrected on 12/5/12: An earlier version of this post incorrectly spelled the name of Iola Brubeck.

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