Dave Brubeck was taking a horse ride with his father one day when he saw something that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
He was along on a cattle-buying trip with his father, Pete, a rancher in Northern California. Pete Brubeck asked an African-American cowboy who everyone called "Shine" to come over and greet his son.
Pete Brubeck then asked Shine to open his shirt. Brubeck, then only 6, watched as Shine unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a brand on his chest: He had been marked like cattle. Shine was the first black person Brubeck had ever seen. A furious Pete Brubeck told his son that "something like this never should happen again."
"It had an impact on me I'll never forget," Brubeck told journalist Hedrick Smith for a documentary called "Rediscovering Dave Brubeck."
"I thought, 'What can I do about this?' It's like my dad (was) telling me to do something about it."
Brubeck, the pioneering jazz pianist who died this month at 91, did more to help people like Shine than most people realize. The tributes that poured in after his death tended to focus on the same themes: He was the jazz legend whose "Dave Brubeck Quartet" gave the world the jazz standard "Take Five," he stretched the boundaries of jazz and was a champion for civil rights.
Brubeck, though, was bigger than all of that. His life and music say more about this country's future than its past. He and an entire generation of white, black and Latino jazz musicians helped create one of the nation's first multicultural communities. They offered a snapshot of what this nation is becoming, like it or not.
To make that world possible, Brubeck and other white jazz musicians did something remarkable. They joined a jazz community where white men were the minority -- and whiteness was seen as a liability, not the norm.
How did Brubeck do it, and how did he thrive? Delve into his interviews and his music, and the clues emerge.
Seeing genius in a 'servant'
He listened to the story of "the other."
Many fans know this story. Brubeck's breakout year came in 1954. He was touring with Duke Ellington, one of America's greatest composers and a jazz titan.
One day, Brubeck heard a knock on his hotel door. He opened it to find Ellington, smiling and holding several copies of Time magazine. Brubeck was on the cover. His heart sank. Ellington was his friend. He knew that Time had also been interviewing Ellington, and Brubeck thought the jazz composer deserved the honor over him.
"I wanted to be on the cover after Duke," Brubeck told the narrator in Ken Burns' epic documentary on jazz. "The worst thing that could have happened to me was that I was there before Duke, and he was delivering the news to me."
The black experience was initially foreign to Brubeck. He was born in Northern California and grew up on a cattle ranch near the Sierra Mountains. But even as his fame eclipsed many of his black musical mentors, he continually talked about the musical debt he owed to them.
The virtuosity of black artists like Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald sometimes did what a civil rights march or a court decision couldn't do -- force whites like Brubeck to see the humanity of black people.
One of the most famous jazz conversion stories comes from Ken Burns' "Jazz" documentary.
In 1931, Charles Black was a white teenager who decided to go hear Armstrong play in an Austin, Texas, hotel. He knew nothing about jazz, but something shifted in him as he watched a rapturous Armstrong perform.
"He was the first genius I'd ever seen," Black recalled. "It is impossible to underestimate the significance of a 16-year-old southern boy seeing genius for the first time in a black person. We literally never saw a black man in anything but a servant's capacity.
"Louis opened my eyes wide and put to me a choice: Blacks, the saying went, were 'all right in their place,' but what was the place of such a man, and of the people from which he sprung?"
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.