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Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time

I remember something the philosopher Gerald Heard told me.  The first thing a man is aware of, he said, is the steady rhythm of his mother’s heartbeat and the last thing he hears before he dies is his own.  Rhythm is the common bond of all humanity: it is also the most pronounced and readily misunderstood ingredient of jazz.

— Dave Brubeck

We’ve waited way too long for a serious biography of Dave Brubeck — but at last we’ve got it, and it’s a good one.  British music journalist Philip Clark’s Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time rises to the challenge of portraying the pianist/composer in his fullness — his days, his works, his friendships, and his ideals.

Fittingly, Clark plays with time to unlock the rich pageant of Brubeck’s 92 years.  Pivoting off a extended interview conducted on a 2003 British tour, the narrative unpacks Brubeck’s career in progress, building from West Coast beginnings through growing popularity coupled with critical puzzlement on the jazz scene to the mass culture break-out of Brubeck’s classic quartet (with Paul Desmond on sax, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums) via 1959’s “Take Five” and the Time Out album.  It’s only the strangely muted reception of Brubeck’s ambitious 1962 cantata The Real Ambassadors (a sly satire expressly written for Louis Armstrong) that sends Clark doubling back again — to Brubeck’s upbringing in rural California and the influences that forged him as musician and man.

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