Black would go on to join a team of lawyers that successfully convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the segregation of students based on race in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
An 'instinct for differences'
Brubeck was inspired by differences.
He didn't look like a jazz musician. When he led the quartet, he looked like a chemistry professor who accidentally found himself behind the piano. With his black horn-rimmed glasses, goofy grin and his square suits, the affable Brubeck looked like Mr. Normal.
Yet Brubeck was a wild man behind the keyboard. He was like a musical mad scientist -- combining unconventional time signatures and musical styles from other cultures that wouldn't appear to work but did.
He sought out the same combustible mix in his famous quartet. Many jazz leaders surrounded themselves with musicians who they had an almost telepathic rapport with onstage. But Brubeck's Quartet clashed.
Brubeck was known for pounding the piano with thunderous chords. His saxophonist, Paul Desmond, played with a light and lyrical style that was so exquisite that one critic said he left "a trail of honey in the air." And then there was his drummer, Joe Morello, a proud man with superb technique who wanted to be showcased more.
The group fought musically and personally. Morello clashed with Desmond. Desmond clashed with Brubeck. They were all so different, but Brubeck made it work.
He wasn't threatened by differences. They inspired him, said Ted Giola, a jazz historian and author.
"It's to Dave Brubeck's credit that he was able to hear these musicians that played very differently from him and was able to see that by taking them and getting their different sounds, he was adding, not subtracting," Giola said in the documentary "Rediscovering Dave Brubeck."
"Dave had an instinct for differences and how that was going to add to his music."
Jazz and democracy
It must be said, though, that the jazz world that Brubeck helped create wasn't a racial utopia.
Black artists were exploited. White audiences gravitated to some white jazz artists who didn't have the talent of black artists. Even some white artists like Brubeck were looked at with disdain by some black musicians.
Ian Carey, a jazz trumpeter who recently wrote an essay, "How Not to Become a Bitter White Jazz musician," said "white musicians unfairly profited from discrimination against black musicians by audiences and the music industry."
Yet Carey also said that when it came time to play, a lot of those divisions evaporated because of something inherent in jazz: Most jazz musicians don't care how you look. They just care about how you play.
"The bandstand is a great equalizer," he said. "You're going to get the best guy or woman for the gig. It doesn't matter what they look like."
Brubeck applied the same principle to his music. He led the first integrated band in the U.S. Army during World War II. He hired a black man, Eugene Wright, to be his quartet's bassist. The jazz world that Brubeck moved in was full of cross-racial and cross-cultural fertilizations.
They weren't just ahead of their time; in some respects, they were ahead of our time.
Some of the biggest jazz records came from artists who built friendships across racial and ethnic lines. The singer Frank Sinatra recorded with and relentlessly championed black artists like Fitzgerald and Count Basie.