Born in Concord, Calif., on Dec. 6. 1920, Brubeck took piano lessons with his mother as a child. Then his father moved the family to a cattle ranch in the foothills of the Sierras.
When he enrolled at the College of the Pacific in 1938, Brubeck had intended to major in veterinary medicine and return to ranching. But while working his way through college by playing piano in nightclubs, he became smitten with jazz and changed his major to music. In 1942, he married Iola Whitlock, a fellow student who became his lifelong partner, librettist, and sometime manager.
Brubeck joined the Army as an infantry man, but ended up leading the semi-official Wolf Pack band attached to Gen. George S. Patton's army. They played popular standards as well as some of his first original jazz tunes, including "We Crossed the Rhine," based on the rhythm of trucks hitting the metal pontoon bridges as they entered Germany.
His band, which was one of the first integrated units in the then-segregated Army, reopened the Opera House in Nuremberg, the site of mass rallies organized by the Nazis, who had banned jazz.
Years later, the addition of Wright to Brubeck's quartet made the group one of the nation's best-known integrated music acts. A longtime champion of civil rights, Brubeck cancelled lucrative gigs at Southern universities and on television's Bell Telephone Hour when the organizers insisted that he replace Wright. He refused to play in South Africa under apartheid.
After his discharge, he enrolled at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. That's where he formed an octet, including Desmond on alto sax, Dave van Kreidt on tenor sax, Cal Tjader on drums and Bill Smith on clarinet. The group played Brubeck originals and standards by other composers. Their ground-breaking album "Dave Brubeck Octet" was recorded in 1946.