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A Talk with Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck is past 80 years old, and he rarely gives interviews. But the composer and pianist recently sat down with reporter Allison Keyes to talk about his love of spiritual music, the importance of jazz in America's recent history and the work he still has ahead of him.

As the leader of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, he was the first artist in history to sell more than a million copies of a jazz instrumental That song was "Take Five," recorded in 1959.

Since then, by his own account Brubeck has penned more than 400 songs, not all of them in the jazz genre. Brubeck is also a respected classical music composer.

Brubeck grew up on a California ranch and seemed headed for life as a cowboy. "My dad said, 'You're the last son, and I want you to be a cowboy and cattle man.' And I thought that was great," Brubeck tells Keyes. But as a teenager he was overheard playing the piano by a local band leader, and he was offered a job. It's been music ever since.

Brubeck tells Keyes that his experiences as a soldier in World War II — the horror of battle, and of liberating concentration camps — led him to a more spiritual understanding of the power of music.

And when he toured in the American South in the 1950s, he ruffled a lot of feathers by insisting that venues allow his black band members to play.

"I was kind of brought up that way," he says, willing to fight for ideas like racial equality and acceptance.

"I have to think we're closer than we were then, and hopefully we're going to get closer," he tells Keyes.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.