Dave Brubeck dies at 91; jazz legend
He was drafted into the Army after graduation in 1942, marrying his college sweetheart, Iola Marie Whitlock, just before he was sent to France in 1944.

His wife, who frequently wrote lyrics for his projects, survives him along with his daughter Catherine, his sons Darius, Chris, Dan and Matthew, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Another son, Michael, died several years ago.

Discharged from the military in 1946, Brubeck went to Mills College in Oakland, studying with French composer Darius Milhaud and forming the Brubeck Octet, a musically adventurous group with an imaginative and avant-garde repertoire. Brubeck's trio, which he led from 1949 to 1951, provided a different, more intimate forum for his far-reaching ideas. The group, which included bassist Ron Crotty and drummer/vibist Cal Tjader, played standards and Brubeck's originals.

In 1951, Brubeck added Desmond to his trio. It was the beginning of a journey into national visibility that established Brubeck and Desmond as significant jazz figures. The quartet, which remained together until 1967 and was briefly reunited in 1976, a year before Desmond died, became the most important vehicle for Brubeck's playing and innovative musical ideas.

Brubeck's sometimes empathetic, sometimes confrontational musical partnership with Desmond was the driving force behind those ideas. Brubeck was the engine, his visceral chording providing lift-off power for Desmond's soaring melodic interpretations of Brubeck originals and tunes from the Great American Songbook.

The intimacy of their musical interaction took place as quasi-verbal subtexts within musical dialogues — with the intellectually sardonic Desmond choosing a fragment of melody to identify the title of a popular song or a classical piece, and Brubeck countering it immediately with a continuation of the melody or a contrasting phrase, identifying the title of a different piece.

In a 1961 New Yorker profile, Robert Rice described a typical example that took place during a quartet performance of "Blue Rondo a la Turk" in which Desmond inserted a quote from "Try a Little Tenderness." "Desmond," wrote Rice, responded "with a loud burst from 'You're Driving Me Crazy! – What Did I Do?' "

Despite their sometimes confrontational relationship, Desmond gave Brubeck full credit for coming up with "Take Five."

"At that point, we had three or four albums a year to get done," he told CBC Radio in 1976. "And [Dave] said, 'Why don't we do ... all different time signatures? ... We got 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, 7/4, 8/4, whatever. Why don't you take 5/4.' So I wrote 'Take Five.' At the time, I really thought it was kind of a throwaway. But it was Dave's idea, so give him ultimate credit."

In 1967, Brubeck disbanded the quartet to concentrate on composition, primarily sacred works and classical pieces, usually with jazz references. But he was soon pairing frequently with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan as the "The Dave Brubeck Trio with Gerry Mulligan."

After Desmond's death, Brubeck continued to maintain the quartet format with other players, including clarinetist Bill Smith and saxophonist Bobby Militello. Among the many ensembles he led was Two Generations of Brubeck, which included his musician sons Dan, Darius and Chris.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet appeared and recorded with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic in 1959, entertained world leaders at the 1988 Gorbachev-Reagan summit in Moscow, and frequently performed at the White House. Brubeck's 80th birthday was celebrated in 2000, featuring four of his sons as soloists in an all-Brubeck program with the London Symphony Orchestra.

His large-scale works included a jazz musical, "The Real Ambassadors," recorded in 1961 with Louis Armstrong and Carmen McRae; a jazz opera, "Cannery Row"; ballets; an oratorio; cantatas; and a Mass.

Some of the disparagement of his music suggested that racial favoritism was a factor in Brubeck's successes, even though Brubeck was from the beginning a highly visible civil rights activist. One time he refused to appear with the quartet on the "Bell Telephone Hour" television show after he was asked to replace Wright, an African American, with a white bassist.

Among his many awards, Brubeck was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, declared a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts and awarded the National Medal of the Arts. In 2009, he received a lifetime achievement award as part of the Kennedy Center Honors.

Despite Brubeck's continued popularity, creative versatility and enormous commercial draw, it took many jazz critics decades to reconsider their early responses to his music.

In his 1995 book, "Cats of Any Color," former Down Beat editor Gene Lees wrote, "The public was right; the critics were wrong."

Times staff writers Elaine Woo and Rebecca Trounson contributed to this report.