10 Interesting Facts about Dave Brubeck

by Jacy Burroughs

Dave Brubeck in 1954

Dave Brubeck in 1954

In honor of Jazz Appreciation Month, I decided to write a post about one of the jazz greats. I am not a jazz musician and unfortunately, my classical music education barely scraped the surface of jazz. However, the question of “Who to write about?” was an easy choice, because I share an alma mater with the legendary Dave Brubeck. We both went to University of the Pacific, formerly College of the Pacific. I even had the chance to meet him my freshman year, well, more like run into him…literally. I was coming out of a class and there he was, right in front of me. Dave Brubeck. I must have looked shocked and embarrassed and he just smiled and asked, “How are you?” I will never forget that smile. He must have been 86 then.

Every year before his passing in 2012, Dave Brubeck would return to Pacific for The Brubeck Festival. There was one at some big venue on the East Coast – Kennedy Center in D.C. or the Lincoln Center in NYC – and then another at our small, liberal arts college in Stockton, CA. That same year I briefly “met” him, I heard him play – 86 and still going strong, still in love with music. He played on the stage of Faye Spanos Concert Hall, just a few feet from the spot where he met his wife, Iola Whitlock. There is a plaque in the hall commemorating the location where their lives together began.

Enough of my reminiscing. Here are some interesting facts about Dave Brubeck:

1. Dave Brubeck was born on December 6, 1920 in Concord, California – just up the road from Sheet Music Plus’s offices in Emeryville. His mother was his first piano teacher and he began studying at the age of four.

2. When Dave was 12, his family moved to a 45,000 acre cattle ranch in the Sierra foothills. This inspired him to enroll as a veterinary science major at College of the Pacific in Stockton, CA.

3. From the time Dave was 14, he played in local dance bands on the weekends. In college, he supported himself by performing at local nightclubs. He enjoyed it so much that he changed his major to music.

4. After Dave graduated from College of the Pacific in 1942, he married Iola and joined the Army. He served in Patton’s Army in Europe during World War II and led a band there.

5. After he was discharged from service in 1946, he began studying composition at Mills College in Oakland, CA with famed French composer Darius Milhaud. Milhaud encouraged Dave to pursue a career in jazz. He and seven other Mills College students formed a cross-genre group that would become known as the Dave Brubeck Octet. They performed actively on campus at Mills, but were too “far out” to get gigs off-campus. Iola was the one who had the idea to get the group performing at other colleges, and so it was that the Dave Brubeck Octet introduced students to a new world of jazz.

6. In 1951, Dave and his family were vacationing in Hawaii. While on Waikiki Beach, he was trying to show his children how to dive into an oncoming wave, but he hit a sandbar and nearly severed his spinal cord. It was after this accident that Dave and saxophonist Paul Desmond formed the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Dave and Paul’s collaborations lasted for seventeen years.


Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1967


7. In 1954, Dave appeared on the cover of Time Magazine.


8. In 1958, the U.S. State Department sponsored an international tour of the Quartet to Poland, India, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq. The influence of this tour on the Quartet, with its exposure to many different cultures, is reflected in the album “Time Out,” which was released the following year. This album explores time signatures outside of the common 4/4 time. It was the first jazz album to sell over a million copies. Famous songs on the album include “Blue Rondo a la Turk” and “Take Five.”

9. Throughout his career, Brubeck experimented with incorporating jazz into classical forms as both a performer and composer. He wrote “Points on Jazz” for the American Ballet Theater, a musical theater piece called “The Real Ambassadors,” an oratorio “The Light in the Wilderness,” a cantata “The Gates of Justice,” a mass “To Hope! A Celebration,” a Christmas choral pageant “La Fiesta de la Posada,” as well as chamber music, pieces for solo and duo-piano and orchestral works.

10. Dave and his wife Iola have four musical sons, Darius, Chris, Dan and Matt. Darius is a jazz keyboardist. Chris mainly plays electric bass, bass trombone and piano, and is active both in classical and jazz genres. Dan is a drummer. Together, he and Chris make up one-half of the Brubeck Brothers Quartet. The youngest son, Matt, is a cellist and performs classical music, jazz and rock.

Dave Brubeck was an active musician until he died on December 5, 2012, just one days before his 92nd birthday. His wife, Iola, joined him just over a year later on March 12, 2014. For more information on Dave’s fascinating life and career, please visit davebrubeck.com. For sheet music by Dave Brubeck, visit sheetmusicplus.com.


Jacy Burroughs is the Assistant E-Commerce Marketing Manager at Sheet Music Plus. She has degrees in Horn Performance from the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  She is a freelance horn player in the Bay Area.

1 Response to “10 Interesting Facts about Dave Brubeck”

  1. 1 gerardfrederick March 2, 2021 at 7:23 pm

    Brubeck´s relationship to Millaud was one of a college student participating in a classroom setting at Mills College in Oakland, not exactly a one-on-one learning experience. But this rather tenuous connection has been squeezed for all its worth by Brubeck all of his life, whereas the man who taught him his technical tricks and modern harmony is totally ignored. That man´s name was Frederick Roger Saatmann of San Francisco without whom Brubeck would have remained the stumble bum on the piano which he was during his octet days. I corresponded with Mr. Brubeck for a while and he stopped replying to my e-mails when I asked about that. I knew Mr. Saatmann personally and a finer more knowledgable musician is difficult to fathom. Aside from that he was a kind, decent human being.

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