The white saxophonist Stan Getz kicked off the bossa nova craze with his recordings with Brazilians Astrud and Joao Gilberto. The jazz album classic "Kind of Blue" was spawned by the relationship between Bill Evans, a white, mild-mannered pianist who looked like a tax accountant, and the pugnacious black trumpeter Miles Davis.
Jazz lore says that initially some of the black members of Davis' band didn't want Evans to join the group because he was white, but Davis insisted because he loved Evans' "quiet fire."
"Kind of Blue" went on to become the best-selling jazz album of all time.
"He was a guy who looked like a stereotypical white nerd," Carey says of Evans. "But he could play. ... What he played was so much bigger than his appearance."
This egalitarian tradition in jazz -- everyone is equal on the bandstand -- has led some to compare it to democracy. The jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis once said that nothing captures the democratic process as perfectly as jazz.
"Jazz means working things out musically with other people. You have to listen to other musicians and play with them even if you don't agree with what they're playing. It teaches you the very opposite of racism and anti-Semitism. It teaches you that the world is big enough to accommodate us all."
Brubeck was a champion for democracy as well as jazz. It's often forgotten that many of the exotic rhythms he infused into his music came from tours his quartet took of the Middle and Far East. The State Department sponsored these tours to promote democracy during the Cold War.
Brubeck often compared jazz to democracy, saying both challenged individuals to express their freedom while being disciplined enough to respect the freedom of others.
Brubeck's words about jazz and democracy take on even more meaning with the recent presidential election.
It was a bruising election season and it revealed that the nation is experiencing profound demographic and social changes. Attitudes toward gay marriage are shifting, a black president was re-elected to a second term, and the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the country will have a majority-minority population by 2043.
Perhaps some Americans feel like traditional jazz purists felt after they first heard Brubeck's exotic rhythms on his groundbreaking 1959 "Time Out" album: My world is changing, and I don't know these tunes.
David Simon, the creator of the HBO series, "The Wire," captured some of that angst in an essay he wrote right after the election entitled "Barack Obama and The Death of Normal."
"America will soon belong to the men and women -- white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight -- who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions."
"We are all the 'other' now," he wrote.
Brubeck entered that world over half-a-century ago.
He was a white man in a world dominated by black artists, but he wasn't threatened by the differences. He respected tradition but he wasn't afraid to subvert it if it meant growth. He learned how to listen to, and be inspired by the music of "the other."
Brubeck was often called the "Ambassador of the Cool," but he was more.
He was the ambassador for a new America.