Timm Schamberger /AFP/Getty Images
Dave Brubeck performs along with his Dave Brubeck Quartet in November 2005.
Dave Brubeck, the legendary jazz pianist and composer, known for defying jazz conventions and for recordings like "Take Five and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" has died.
Brubeck died of heart failure in Norwalk, Conn. He was one day short of his 92nd birthday.
His All Music biography says Brubeck distinguished himself from the popular jazz musicians of the West Coast by playing unusual time signatures, "adventurous tonalities," and proving that complex music could find a larger audience.
Perhaps a testimony of that was that in 1954, Brubeck became only the second jazz musician ever featured on the cover of Time Magazine. The first? Louie Armstrong.
Born Dec. 6, 1920, Brubeck grew up on a 45,000-acre ranch in California and he came to music through a circuitous route. In a 1999 interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross, he said his first love was rodeo roping. But his mother, who spotted a special talent when he sat at the piano, insisted he not rope anything larger than a yearling.
"She didn't want my fingers to become hurt," Brubeck said. "My uncle, who was also a rodeo roper, got his finger caught between the saddle horn and the rope, and it took his finger off. And he used to kid the other cowboys and say, 'I would've been a great pianist like my nephew Dave, had I not lost this finger.'"
Brubeck went on to college but a zoology teacher told him he should focus on what he had spotted as his true love: Music. So Brubeck started taking classes at Mills College in Oakland, California, except there was one huge problem — Brubeck never learned to read music and the dean at the college threatened not to let him graduate.
"But when some of the younger teachers heard this, they went to the dean and said, 'You're making a big mistake, because he writes the best counterpoint that I've ever heard,'" Brubeck said. "So they convinced the dean to let me graduate. And the dean said, 'You can graduate if you promise never to teach and embarrass the conservatory.' And that's the way I've gotten through life, is having to substitute other things for not being able to read well. But I can write, which is something very few people understand."