December 7, 2012

NEC Mourns Pianist Dave Brubeck

Jerry Bergonzi of the Faculty Was Member of Brubeck's 1970s Lineup

Dave Brubeck, a self-styled "composer who plays the piano" who brought classical training to his work as a jazz musician, died December 5, one day before what would have been his 92nd birthday.

Saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, a member of the New England Conservatory jazz faculty since 1996, and who performed with Brubeck from 1973 to 1981, wrote:

"Dave Brubeck was my first big time gig. We traveled the world, 200 days a year and I got to see what being a professional musician was about. The attitudes on and off the stage were spiritual and Dave had a way of supporting your musical being just by the way he looked at you when you were playing. He was a jazz educator in his own way."

Bergonzi has also spoken on camera about the intuitive vs. analytical sources of Brubeck's music, leading off the video playlist on this page. It's interesting to hear a colleague address this point, since Brubeck's mythos has often stressed his intellectual leanings.

Classically trained by his mother, Brubeck began performing with local jazz groups in his native California in his teens, later returning to classical studies at Mills College with composer Darius Milhaud, after whom he named his first-born son. Brubeck also completed monumental composed works alongside his prodigious touring activity and recorded output as a jazz leader.

Brubeck's eclecticism led him in many directions, from the unconventional 5/4 meter of his band's best-known tune, "Take Five," written by saxophonist Paul Desmond after one of their world tours, to the 1957 LP Dave Digs Disney, which was far ahead of its time in recognizing an essential piece of the American songbook.

While constantly on tour and far too busy to do much teaching in the conventional sense, Brubeck valued education, and the formation in 2001 of the Brubeck Institute at University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, allowed him to set the foundation of a teaching legacy during his lifetime, as well as give back to a school that he himself once attended.

NEC jazz chair Ken Schaphorst notes that "many of our students have gone to his Summer Institute. And Mark Zaleski '08 and Alec Watson '14 (a pianist who just started at NEC this year) were both part of the year-long Institute. And of course Paul Bloom '10 Prep is there now!"

Find more on the Brubeck Institute here.

Find more on jazz studies at NEC here.


New England Conservatory’s Jazz Studies Department was the first fully accredited jazz studies program at a music conservatory. The brainchild of Gunther Schuller who moved quickly to incorporate jazz into the curriculum when he became President of the Conservatory in 1967, the unprecedented program was approved by the National Association of Schools of Music and began offering classes in September 1969. Closely allied to the Jazz Studies program was his Third Stream department (now Contemporary Improvisation), which came along a few years later, building bridges between classical music, jazz, and related genres.

Jazz Studies faculty have included Carl Atkins, Jaki Byard, Jimmy Giuffre, six MacArthur “Genius” grant recipients (Steve Lacy, George Russell, Ran Blake, Gunther Schuller, Miguel Zenón, and Jason Moran) and four NEA Jazz Masters (Schuller, Bob Brookmeyer, Russell, and Ron Carter). Current faculty, led by Jazz Studies Chair Ken Schaphorst, are among the most distinguished jazz artists of today: Jerry Bergonzi, Ran Blake, Luis Bonilla, Anthony Coleman, Dominique Eade, Billy Hart, Fred Hersch, Dave Holland, Cecil McBee, Donny McCaslin, John McNeil, Jason Moran, Bob Moses, Brad Shepik, and Miguel Zenon, among others.

Prominent NEC alumni include Darcy James Argue, Bruce Barth, Richie Barshay, Don Byron, Regina Carter, Freddy Cole, Marilyn Crispell, Dave Douglas, Marty Ehrlich, Ricky Ford, Satoko Fujii, Jerome Harris, Fred Hersch, Roger Kellaway, Mat Maneri, Harvey Mason, Andy McGhee, Bill McHenry, John Medeski, Vaughn Monroe, Michael Moore, Noah Preminger, Jamie Saft, George Schuller, Luciana Souza, Chris Speed, Cecil Taylor, Daniel Tepfer, Cuong Vu, Phil Wilson, Bo Winiker, Bernie Worrell, and Rachel Z. As of the 2012–2013 school year, the program has 61 undergraduate and 45 graduate students representing 12 countries.

Contact: Ann Braithwaite
Braithwaite & Katz