NORWALK, CONN. - Dave Brubeck, a jazz pianist who had unparalleled commercial success, expanding musical boundaries with his daring compositions and carrying jazz throughout the world on tours sponsored by the State Department, died Wednesday at a hospital in Norwalk, Conn., one day before his 92nd birthday.
His manager, Russell Gloyd, said Brubeck was on his way to a regular medical checkup when his heart gave out.
In a seven-decade career, Brubeck wrote hundreds of tunes, and his quartet, featuring alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, was one of the most popular jazz groups in history. In 1959, it recorded the million-selling instrumental hit "Take Five."
Brubeck composed ambitious classical and choral works, released nearly 100 albums and remained a charismatic and indefatigable performer into old age. In December 2010, the month Brubeck turned 90, his quartet won the readers' poll of DownBeat magazine as the best group in jazz - 57 years after he first won the poll.
Brubeck, a bespectacled cowboy who grew up on a remote California ranch, was known for his complex rhythmic patterns, which he said were inspired by riding his horse and listening to its syncopated hoofbeats striking the ground.
He studied in the 1940s with the experimental French composer Darius Milhaud, who encouraged his interest in jazz. Brubeck was among the first jazz musicians to make wide use of polytonality, or playing in more than one musical key at a time. He was also an early advocate of "world music," adopting exotic sounds that he heard in his worldwide travels.
After forming his quartet in California in the early 1950s, Brubeck sought to branch out from the dank nightclubs of San Francisco and Los Angeles. His wife, Iola, suggested that the quartet perform on college campuses, which produced a nationwide sensation, with record sales to match.
With the release of "Time Out" in 1959, Brubeck had the first jazz album to sell more than 1 million copies. It reached No. 2 on the pop charts, and its eternally catchy signature tune, "Take Five," became a surprise hit.
After early struggles, Brubeck was reportedly earning more than $100,000 a year by 1954, the year he became the second jazz musician to be featured on the cover of Time magazine (after Louis Armstrong, in 1949).
David Warren Brubeck was born Dec. 6, 1920, in Concord, Calif. He and his family lived on a 45,000-acre ranch near Ione, Calif.
His father was a champion rodeo roper, and his mother was a conservatory-trained pianist. Because of early eyesight problems, Brubeck always had difficulty reading musical notation. He compensated by learning to improvise and to play by ear, which served him well in jazz.
At the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., a dean called him a disgrace but allowed Brubeck to graduate after a professor pleaded on his behalf, calling him a budding genius.
After his initial quartet split up in 1967, Brubeck formed a new quartet in the '80s, with which he toured until shortly before his death. Brubeck often performed with his musical sons - Dan, Darius, Chris and Matthew. Another son, Michael, died in 2009.
In 1996, Brubeck received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement, and he was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2009.