When I think of the music of the great jazz pianist Dave Brubeck -- who died today at the age of 91 -- I immediately think of "Blue Rondo à la Turk," the first track off his 1959 blockbuster Time Out. The album included "Take Five," his biggest hit, and one of the most recognizable songs in jazz. But it's "Blue Rondo" that I turn to first. It's a song with a thousand stories and teaching moments. But, let much touch on one.
Brubeck was inspired by the rhythms and time-signatures he heard on a trip to Turkey. Upon his return to the states, he poured that inspiration into his work, and the result was "Blue Rondo," a song that fit neatly in with the West Coast jazz of Time Out. It didn't sound like the music he heard on the streets of Turkey. It incorporated elements of it.
This isn't unheard of in pop music -- The Police employed Jamaican influences and didn't sound like a reggae band; Paul Simon looked to Africa and made his best rock album -- but it's increasingly rare in 2012, when the artistic goal too often appears to be trying to sound just like something that's already been made (btw, Alabama Shakes are coming to The Paramount on March 3).
There are myriad takeaways from the life and career of Dave Brubeck. But the one that's going to stick with me is the way he looked to new sounds to move his music forward, not push it back.