Brubeck's mother studied piano in England and intended to become a concert pianist; at home she taught piano for extra money. Brubeck was not particularly interested in learning by any certain method, but preferred to create his own melodies; and so he avoided learning to read sheet music. In college Brubeck was nearly expelled when one of his professors discovered that he could not read sheet music. Several of his professors came forward arguing for his ability with counterpoint and harmony, but the school was still afraid that it would cause a scandal, and only agreed to let Brubeck graduate once Brubeck promised never to teach piano.
After graduating from the University of the Pacific in 1942, Brubeck was drafted into the army and served overseas in George Patton's Third Army during the Battle of Ardennes (1944). He played in a band, quickly integrating it and gaining both popularity and deference. He returned to college after serving nearly 4 years in the army, this time attending Mills College and studying under Darius Milhaud, who encouraged him to study fugue and orchestration but not classical piano. (Oddly enough, most critics consider Brubeck something of a classical pianist playing jazz.)
After completing his studies under Milhaud, Brubeck started an octet including Cal Tjader and Paul Desmond. The octet was highly experimental, made few recordings, and got even fewer paying jobs. A bit discouraged, Brubeck started a trio with two of the members, not including Desmond, who had a gig of his own, and spent several years playing nothing but jazz standards. Brubeck then formed The Dave Brubeck Quartet, which consisted of Joe Dodge on drums, Bob Bates on bass, Paul Desmond on saxophone, and of course Brubeck on piano. In the mid-1950s Bates and Dodge were respectively replaced by Eugene Wright and Joe Morello. Eugene Wright is African-American; in the late 1950s Brubeck cancelled many concerts because the club owners wanted him to bring a different bassist. He also cancelled a television appearance when he found out that the venue intended to keep Wright off-camera. In 1958 the Dave Brubeck Quartet released Time Out, an album their label was enthusiastic about but nonetheless hesitant to release: it contained all original compositions, and almost none of them in common time. Nonetheless the album quickly went platinum.
The Dave Brubeck Quartet broke up in 1967; Brubeck continued playing with Desmond and then began recording with Gerry Mulligan. Desmond died in 1977 and left everything, including residuals and the immense royalties for "Take Five", to the Red Cross. Mulligan and Brubeck recorded together for six years and then Brubeck formed another group with Jerry Bergonzi on saxophone, and three of his sons, Dan, Darius, and Chris, on drums, bass, and keyboards. Brubeck continues to write new works, including orchestrations and ballet scores, and tours about 80 cities each year, usually 20 of them in Europe in the spring. In recent years his quartet has included alto saxophonist Bobby Militello, bassist Alec Dankworth (who replaced Jack Six), and drummer Randy Jones.