On December 5th, 2012, pianist, composer and Jazz legend, Dave Brubeck sadly passed away one day before his 92nd birthday. We would like to take a moment to look back on his Brubeck’s great career as well as his performances on The Ed Sullivan Show.
In the mid-1950’s, Dave Brubeck successfully burst onto the Jazz scene creating the The Dave Brubeck Quartet with San Francisco saxophonist Paul Desmond. Their residency at San Francisco’s Black Hawk nightclub and tours of various universities across the country built a strong fan base. His albums became so well received not only by college students, but also by a broader public. In fact, in 1954 he appeared on the cover of Time magazine. In 1959, Brubeck had a hit with “Take Five,” co-written by Desmond. “Take Five” became popular for its 5/4 time signature and sold over a million copies, which was extraordinary for a jazz instrumental.
The recording’s success brought television exposure, and The Ed Sullivan Show did not wait to book the quartet. Ed Sullivan was a huge Jazz supporter; having other Jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong on The Ed Sullivan Show quite often.
Dave Brubeck appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show three times. His first performance took place on October 16th, 1955. That night, The Dave Brubeck Quartet played “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “Jeepers Creepers.” The four appeared again on the show 5 years later on October 16th, 1960. On this episode, Ed Sullivan visited Dave Brubeck’s house in Oakland Hills, California. There, Ed and Dave talked about his family, his musical background and joked about how Ed was a square. “Is there something you could play that is not so complicated that I can understand?” asked Ed. “That you could understand? Why Ed, you’re a square. You are really square,” replied Dave. Following this conversation, Dave played the more melodic tune “In a Dancing Mood.” On June 17th, 1962 The Dave Brubeck Quartet performed on The Ed Sullivan Show for the last time. During this final performance they played their signature hit “Take Five.”
Throughout his touring career, Dave Brubeck worked with many African-American musicians. He shared this common passion with Ed Sullivan who was a big civil rights movement ambassador.
In the 1970’s, Brubeck considered retirement, however he ultimately ended up performing live for another 40 years. In his eighties, he toured relentlessly and played Jazz festivals in Toronto and Montreal for six consecutive years from 2006-2011. He remained active until the very end. His last complete performance, before his deteriorating health forced him to stop touring, was last June in Montreal with his wife of 70 years, Iola, in the audience. Just hours after Brubeck’s death, he received a posthumous Grammy nomination in the best instrumental composition category.
Despite Brubeck’s inability to read music sheets, he arranged amazing odd time signatures and overall difficult music experiments that to this day continue to mesmerize thousands of Jazz players and listeners around the world. His strange yet attractive compositions made him the Jazz outlier and pop sensation that he was and continues to be.
The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Take Five” performance on Ed Sullivan is available on iTunes.