brubeck-header brubeck-header
Cartoon CultureDisney

Jazz Legend Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)

Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, of “Take Five” fame, died last Wednesday, the day before his 92nd birthday.

Brubeck had at least a couple of animation connections. He composed music for “The NASA Space Station” episode of the animated mini-series This is America, Charlie Brown. He also inspired animators, including Oscar-winner Zbigniew Rybczyński (Tango) whose experimental student film Take Five used Brubeck’s music as a backdrop. The film can be viewed on this website.

Most significantly, Brubeck released an album in 1957 called Dave Digs Disney ($5 on Amazon). Although it may not seem particularly daring today, Brubeck took a big risk when he recorded this album.

At the time he recorded it, the Disney songbook was considered below the talents of respectable modern jazz musicians like Brubeck. Jazz critic Marc Myers wrote, “Back in the ’50s, no one in jazz took Disney movies or their soundtracks seriously. Disney Images represented Squaresville, a largely white Utopian world in which bad moods, misfortune and unconventional lifestyles simply didn’t exist.” Brubeck’s album turned out to be a huge success, and soon after, other top jazz artists like Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, John Coltrane and Bill Evans were all recording their own versions of Disney tunes.

JazzWax’s Marc Myers has written extensively about Brubeck’s Disney record, including memories from Brubeck’s wife Iola and record producer George Avakian. Avakian told JazzWax:

“The Disney theme was Dave’s idea, and I was amazed when he called and told me what he wanted to do. I think I said, ‘Jesus, what a goofy idea.’ But anything Dave wanted short of tearing down the building was fine with me. He was taken with the tunes, and the quintet had been playing them on the road quite a bit. As you know, Dave and Paul had a quirky sense of humor…When the record came out, there were a few who said, ‘What is Dave doing recording Disney?’ The inference was that the album’s theme was somehow trite or child-like, and not nearly as serious as Dave’s earlier efforts. None of which was the case then—or now. Dave was ahead of his time tapping into the Disney songbook. Look at how many artists have done the same since.”

Below are a few cuts from the album:

“Alice in Wonderland”
“When You Wish Upon A Star”
  • droosan

    Brubeck’s soundtrack for the NASA Peanuts episode is compiled on his album QUIET AS THE MOON … which also contains a wonderful 7-minute extended version of “When You Wish Upon A Star.”

    • THIS IS AMERICA: CHARLIE BROWN (Mendelson-Melendez/CBS; 1988), the fourth episode, “The NASA Space Station.” I saw that back when it aired! Brubeck’s music was beautiful.

  • Pedro Nakama

    I saw him at the Hollywood Bowl 3 times. Another great album of his is Bravo Brubeck. Live concert in Mexico.

  • Steve Gattuso

    I remember seeing an animated short from the USSR at an Animation Celebration called “5/4” that also used “Take Five” for the music, but I don’t remember many details of the work.

    • ilya

      It was one of Ivan Maximov’s best shorts.

  • dbenson

    I’ve heard various jazz covers of “Alice in Wonderland” — Brubeck made it into a standard. On those other performances I wonder if everybody recognized it as a Disney soundtrack tune.

  • Marvin O

    What Dave Brubeck did in the late 1950s recording Disney music was sincere and way ahead of its time. It was only decades later that clockwork musical compilations like “Mad About the Mouse” spewed forth as unending marketing excretions, dragging hit performers along for a dubious ride.

  • Joel

    He and his great music will be sorely missed.

  • Dave Brubeck’s bother, Henry was my music teacher as well as a good friend. On occasion, Dave Brubeck would arrive in my home town of Santa Barbara for either a visit or a concert. Even back then he was an incredible musician and he changed our view of jazz forever. I’ve always considered myself lucky to know this amazing musical family.

    • Iritscen

      It *is* a small world, after all!

  • Bill

    I cannot listen to or think of the song Alice in Wonderland without it being in 3/4 time instead of the movie’s bland 4/4. I never tire of hearing that album.