Dave Brubeck, Wiltonian and acclaimed jazz star, dies

Dave Brubeck, long-time Wilton resident and jazz legend, died Wednesday morning at Norwalk hospital of heart failure, according to news reports. Mr. Brubeck's death came the day before his 92nd birthday. Mr. Brubeck attained international acclaim for such hits as "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk."

He is survived by his wife, Iola, and four sons, Chris, Darius, Dan and Matthew, and a daughter, Catherine Brubeck Yaghsizian. Another son, Michael, died in 2009. He is also survived by several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

One of the many highlights of Mr. Brubeck's long and highly celebrated career was the release of the album "Time Out" in 1959, which was the first jazz album to sell more than one million copies. It is in the Grammy Hall of Fame and remains one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time.

Mr. Brubeck received a long list of honors and awards for his work. On Dec. 6, 2009, his 89th birthday, Mr. Brubeck received the Kennedy Center Honor, which celebrated "six decades of dazzling musical genius, which helped to define an American art form," according to a press release from the Kennedy Center.

"I feel surprised, proud and humbled to receive such a high honor," said Mr. Brubeck, at the time, in a statement on his website.

"The entire weekend was thrilling, and Sunday night beyond unbelievable," Chris Brubeck, son of Mr. Brubeck, told The Bulletin. Chris Brubeck is also a musician and Wilton resident.

The Brubeck family has lived on Millstone Road since the 1960s.

Despite his international fame, Mr. Brubeck was generous to Wilton. He performed in the inaugural event for the Arts at St. Matthew's series Nov. 16, 1997 and he returned for a five-year anniversary performance April 28, 2002.

"They were glorious experiences," said Rodney Ayers, director of music at St. Matthew's. "Dave Brubeck was a legend in the U.S. and the world ... he was at the pinnacle of the jazz scene. It was an honor to have him perform here ... he was a very gracious man, full of life. To watch him beam as the choir sang his music, I still remember the look on his face to hear his music sung."

Mr. Brubeck was supposed to join his sons in a performance at the church on Oct. 16, 2011, but his declining health prevented him from doing so, although he did attend the concert.

Still, Mr. Ayers said, "as his health declined, to watch him walk to the piano, and tear the piano up, it was amazing."

Local jazz musician Matt Criscuolo spoke glowingly of Mr. Brubeck's legacy, reflecting on his boyhood years of listening to his songs, which he describes as "poignant" and "beautiful."

Mr. Criscuolo also performed with Mr. Brubeck's son Chris about 15 years ago.

"I have been listening to Dave since I was 15 years old," Mr. Criscuolo said.

"He has contributed to the legacy of jazz in a strong way, because his music was very accessible to a lot of people who may not have been jazz musicians themselves.

"He was true to himself and his approach was authentic. He also was very humble and a very good man. It was nice to have him as one of the great ambassadors of jazz."

In 2005, thanks to Mr. Brubeck's charitable donation, the Wilton Library incorporated the large, domed-style, multi-purpose Brubeck Room, which has become a hub and centerpiece for library programs.

The room offers "wonderful acoustics," according to Elaine Tai-Lauria, the library's executive director. There also is a piano, which Mr. Brubeck signed and played in a library jazz performance.

The room is host to a variety of activities, including a winter jazz series, summer concerts, educational lectures, author readings and receptions.

Currently, the Brubeck Room is hosting an American history lecture series, which will continue over the winter months.

"Mr. Brubeck was a good friend of the library and will be missed," Ms. Tai-Lauria said.

"Living next door to them for the past 28 years has just been an incredible honor," said Kathy Welling. "I loved the way he would call us and say 'this is your neighbor, Dave.'"

At the opening of the Brubeck Room, Ms. Welling said Iola Brubeck responded to a question by saying, "it's wonderful to be honored all over the world, but it is most important and heartfelt when you are honored in your community."

Wilton First Selectman issued the following statement: "Wilton is saddened at the loss of one of our great citizens. On behalf of the entire community, our hearts and prayers go out to his wife, Iola, and family members.

"Dave resided in Wilton for over 50 years. He was a very generous citizen who contributed greatly to the library's expansion project. In recent years, he helped to raise funds by jazz performances with his sons in the Brubeck Room, earlier named in his honor.

"Dave was an internationally recognized jazz musician, who performed all over the world. His college tours in the "50s" were famous, well-attended events. Besides a talented pianist, he was also a composer and the leader of his famous Dave Brubeck Quartet.

"He brought music and joy to the world and was a musical peacemaker. He will be missed by a community that he called home for so many years."

World stage

On a wider stage, Mr. Brubeck fought for civil rights and used music to bring racial injustices into the national discourse. He also served as an artistic ambassador for the United States State Department and was designated a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress.

The U.S. House of Representatives in 2009 passed HR 1283, which honored Mr. Brubeck for his work.

Mr. Brubeck has set to music the words of the Old Testament and of Martin Luther King Jr. and, most recently, the photographs of Ansel Adams.

He was born on Dec. 6, 19230, in Concord, Calif., near San Francisco, and first studied to be a veterinarian but switched to music and became a pianist, according to news reports. He was a World War II Army veteran, where he started a jazz band to entertain troops.

At the Kennedy Center gala, which was broadcast by CBS on Dec. 29, 2009 President Obama paid tribute to Mr. Brubeck. Mr. Obama said his father took him to a Dave Brubeck concert in Hawaii nearly 40 years ago, and "I've been a jazz fan ever since. The world that he opened up for a 10-year-old boy was spectacular."