Mr. Brubeck died Dec. 5 at a hospital in Norwalk, Conn., one day before his 92nd birthday. His manager, Russell Gloyd, said Mr. Brubeck was on his way to a regular medical checkup when his heart gave out.
Considered one of the greatest figures of a distinctively American art form, Mr. Brubeck was a modest man who left a monumental legacy. His 1959 recording “Time Out,” with its infectious hit “Take Five,” became the first jazz album to sell 1 million copies. He toured once-forbidden countries in the Middle East and in the old Soviet empire and was honored by presidents and foreign dignitaries.
He wrote hundreds of tunes, including the oft-recorded “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “The Duke.” His quartet, featuring alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, was one of the most popular jazz groups in history, and he kept up a busy performing schedule into his 90th year.
He also 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 Mr. 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.
A bespectacled cowboy who grew up on a remote California ranch, Mr. Brubeck 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. Mr. 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 an early advocate of “world music,” adopting exotic sounds that he heard in his travels.
After Mr. Brubeck formed a quartet in the early 1950s, his wife, Iola, suggested that the quartet perform on college campuses, which produced a nationwide sensation, with record sales to match.
“We reached them musically,” he told the New York Times in 1967. “We had no singers, no beards, no jokes. All we presented was music.”
With their curly hair and horn-rimmed glasses, Desmond and Mr. Brubeck looked like professorial brothers and were unlikely jazz stars. The two had an instant musical bond and could anticipate each other’s bandstand improvisations, as Desmond’s ethereal, upper-register saxophone soared above Mr. Brubeck’s driving keyboard attack.
With the release of “Time Out” in 1959, Mr. Brubeck had an unexpected best seller. The album reached No. 2 on the pop charts, and its eternally catchy signature tune, “Take Five,” became a surprise hit. Written by Desmond but heavily arranged by Mr. Brubeck, “Take Five” — with its unusual time signature of 5/4 — helped make the Dave Brubeck Quartet a leading jazz attraction of the 1950s and ’60s.