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Dave Brubeck -- too good to be true?

December 4, 2010 |  6:00 am

Dave-brubeck Is Dave Brubeck too good to be true? Maybe for those who prefer their jazz icons to have demons and deep shadows hovering over their personas. But Brubeck, who turns 90 on Monday, has over a career spanning seven decades proved that being a genuinely good guy isn’t incompatible with being a legitimately hip cat.

His birthday milestone will be marked that same night with the Turner Classics Movies network premiere of the documentary “Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way,” directed by Bruce Ricker and executive-produced by Clint Eastwood. Besides being a thorough chronicle of Brubeck’s life and times, the movie submits to younger viewers what to them might seem unimaginable: an acoustic jazz piano player who’s as widely known as any contemporary pop star they can name.

Brubeck’s clever experiments with time-signatures -- as in his hit songs, “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” “Three to Get Ready” and the inimitable, unavoidable “Take Five” -- provided the source of his global appeal. (For a 1988 Moscow summit meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, representatives for both sides requested that Brubeck and his combo fly over for a live performance at the Spaso House, home of the American ambassador to Russia. Gorbachev’s interpreter, according to Brubeck, “was a real fan of mine and I think he might have had something to do with it.”)

But many believe it is Brubeck’s legacy as a composer that will endure even longer. “In Your Own Sweet Way,” “Summer Song,” “The Duke” and other Brubeck-penned pieces have been performed by artists as varied as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Yo-Yo Ma and Keith Emerson (you’ll see the latter two in the documentary).

 --  Gene Seymour

For the full profile in Arts & Books, click here.

Photo credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

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