Brubeck learned piano from his classically-trained mother, and he succeeded at a young age despite the fact that he couldn’t read sheet music. He attended a conservatory after a brief spell studying veterinary science, but he was almost expelled from school after his professors learned of his inability to read music. After school, he was drafted into the Army and served in Europe during World War II. It was there, while playing a gig for the Red Cross, that the notion of starting a band first came to his mind.
Brubeck organized the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951 with saxophonist Paul Desmond, whom he met in the Army: Desmond would collaborate often with Brubeck until his death in 1977. Brubeck’s popularity increased with his tour of American college campuses in the 1950s; his Columbia Records debut, Jazz Goes To College, was recorded on this tour. His style of piano playing, which combined his classical training with a penchant for improvisation, was unlike anything that had been heard in jazz before, and his compositions, many of which used unusual time signatures, revolutionized the genre.
Brubeck played with his Quartet until 1967; during that time, they released hit albums, recorded songs that became jazz standards, and Brubeck himself ended up on the cover of Time Magazine. After disbanding the Quartet, Brubeck started writing longer instrumental and choral pieces. In his later years, he became an elder statesman for the genre, receiving accolades around the world for his incredible work in music. He will be missed.