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RIP Dave Brubeck: 5 Things You Might Not Know About the Jazz Legend

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Legendary jazz musician Dave Brubeck passed away this morning in Connecticut, one day short of his 92nd birthday. Here are five things you might not have known about the Kennedy Center Honoree, jazz standards composer, and leader of the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

1. His College Degree Came With a Catch

Brubeck enrolled at what's now University of the Pacific in 1938 with plans to study veterinary medicine. He eventually switched his major to music, though, and he tore through his classes until he had to enroll in keyboard instruction his senior year. At that point, Brubeck had to admit to his professor that he couldn't read a single note of music, even though he played jazz as well as anyone.

Brubeck's professor and dean informed him that they couldn't let a student graduate with a music degree if he couldn't read music. Brubeck shrugged off their worries by saying he didn't care about reading music; he just wanted to play jazz. Brubeck's other teachers protested that he was a very gifted musician even if he couldn't read music, so the dean cut a deal with the jazz man: Brubeck could graduate, but only if he promised never to teach music and embarrass the school by revealing his shortcoming. Brubeck later laughingly told the website JazzWax, "I kept that promise ever since, even when I was starving." He did learn to read music later in life.

2. He Narrowly Avoided the Battle of the Bulge

Brubeck served under General George Patton during World War II, and he nearly fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Before his unit was sent to the front lines, though, Brubeck and his fellow soldiers got a visit from a Red Cross show. The show needed volunteer pianists, and Brubeck signed up. He tickled the keys so dazzlingly that the Army pulled him out of his unit so he could form a jazz band to entertain the troops. He spent the rest of the war touring various camps with no fewer than three liberated pianos and an integrated band known as the Wolfpack.

3. He Was a Jazzy Diplomat

From the 1950s on, the Dave Brubeck Quartet toured the world on behalf of the State Department. Brubeck and his bandmates cultivated jazz fans in unlikely places such as Turkey, Iraq, and Pakistan. Brubeck became such an ambassador for Western life that the New Yorker later ran the joke, "Whenever (Secretary of State) John Foster Dulles visits a country, the State Department sends the Brubeck quartet in a few weeks later to repair the damage."

Brubeck's tunes may even have helped end the Cold War. When Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev found themselves at an impasse during 1988 disarmament talks in Moscow, the Gipper called in the big guns: the Dave Brubeck Quartet. By the time Brubeck and his boys closed their set with "Take Five," even Gorbachev was drumming his fingers on the table in time with the tune. Brubeck quipped to the press, "I can't understand Russian, but I can understand body language." A breakthrough in the talks finally came the next day. Coincidence? Well, the song is pretty catchy.

4. He Could Pull Off a Whirlwind Courtship

When Brubeck went to college, he promised his mother that he'd go to at least one dance with a young lady. Since he didn't have much interest in going, he got a buddy to set him up with the smartest girl they could find. As Brubeck later reminisced, his reasoning was, "[I]f I've got to go to this dance, I'd at least want it to be interesting." They found a whip-smart coed named Iola Whitlock who agreed to be Brubeck's date.

You'd think a jazzman would be crazy about dancing, but Brubeck and Iola spent most of the evening chatting in his car. By the time the dance was over, the couple had decided to get engaged. Smart move by Brubeck: he and Iola have been married since 1942 and have six children. Iola serves as Brubeck's manager, lyricist, and occasional writing partner.

5. He Upstaged Duke Ellington on the Cover of Time

In 1954, the Dave Brubeck Quartet and Duke Ellington were touring the country and helping to turn jazz into a national phenomenon. The media paid attention, and Time dispatched a reporter to write a story about the tour. It was never quite clear which musician was going to be pictured on the cover, though. In the end, the editors gave Brubeck the nod, and he saw the first copy during the tour's stop in Denver.

Brubeck later told PBS that seeing himself on the cover rather than Ellington was a bit disturbing. He had long idolized Ellington, so he felt a little conflicted about stealing the spotlight from his hero. Brubeck modestly explained, "He was so much more important than I was...he deserved to be first."

This article originally appeared in 2010.

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entertainment
13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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