— You don't have to be a jazz aficionado to recognize "Take Five," the smoky instrumental by the Dave Brubeck Quartet that instantly evokes swinging bachelor pads, hi-fi systems and cool nightclubs of the 1950s and '60s.
"Take Five" was a musical milestone — a deceptively complex jazz composition that managed to crack the Billboard singles chart and introduce a new, adventurous sound to millions of listeners.
In a career that spanned almost all of American jazz since World War II, Brubeck's celebrated quartet combined exotic, challenging tempos with classical influences to create lasting standards.
The pianist and composer behind the group, Brubeck died Wednesday of heart failure at a hospital in Norwalk, Conn. He was a day shy of his 92nd birthday.
Brubeck believed that jazz presented the best face of America to the world.
"Jazz is about freedom within discipline," he said in a 2005 interview with The Associated Press. "Usually a dictatorship like in Russia and Germany will prevent jazz from being played because it just seemed to represent freedom, democracy and the United States.
"Many people don't understand how disciplined you have to be to play jazz. ... And that is really the idea of democracy — freedom within the Constitution or discipline. You don't just get out there and do anything you want."
The common thread that ran through Brubeck's work was breaking down the barriers between musical genres — particularly jazz and classical music. He was inspired by his mother, a classical pianist, and later by his composition teacher, the French composer Darius Mihaud, who encouraged his interest in jazz and advised him to "keep your ears open" as he traveled the world.
"When you hear Bach or Mozart, you hear perfection," Brubeck said in 2005. "Remember that Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were great improvisers. I can hear that in their music."