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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:

“Heigh-Ho”
“Alice in Wonderland”
“When You Wish Upon A Star”

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