If you are talking living legends of jazz, Concord, California-native Dave Brubeck's name has to be right around the top of that list. Born in 1920, the pianist, composer, and bandleader has enjoyed one of the most distinguished, versatile careers in 20th century jazz. Brubeck grew up around music, as his mother, Elizabeth Ivey, was a classically-trained pianist, who taught piano lessons in her spare time. Initially, Brubeck wasn't interested in music, preferring to go study science at the University of the Pacific. While at U.O.P., Brubeck transferred into the music department and graduated in 1942. After graduation, he was drafted and, during his time in the army, Brubeck formed a popular group called the Wolfpack.
Returning home, Brubeck formed the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951 with his friend Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, Bob Bates on string bass, and Joe Dodge on drums. Though the group had a rotating cast of musicians, it remained an important, steady creative outlet for Brubeck during his over 50-year career. He has released over 30 full-length albums during that span, that range from traditional to free jazz to everything in between.
One of Brubeck's most notable albums is 1959's crossover sensation, Time Out. While few expected a jazz record to make a dent on the charts, the Dave Brubeck Quartet's disc shot all the way up to No. 2 on the Billboard Pop Albums Chart. Featuring the hit single "Take Five," the disc features complex time signatures and intricate arrangements—hardly a normal recipe for commercial success.
He has performed all over the world and continues to perform from time to time. He also managed to pass his exemplary musical genes to his six children, as four of them have gone on to be professional musicians. Among his myriad personal achievements and honors, Brubeck was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1986 and inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2009. He was even awarded an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music in 2009. Known as one of the real "good guys" of music—he was presented with the "Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy" by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice—Brubeck continues to make music and inspire musicians of all ages around the world.