Perfection, in 5/4 Time

I was born in 1966, so while I can honestly say I was alive during the 1960’s, I really don’t know what that time was like (my memory is a bit sketchy). I listen to the music of The Beatles and Bob Dylan. I watch reruns of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “That Girl.” There was a war. Musical innovation. Changing morals. I don’t know what it was like, but I can imagine.

And while television and movies have certainly informed what I think the 1960’s must have been like, it is really the music that most specifically puts me in that time and place. Songs like “Tambourine Man” by Bob Dylan, “Surfer Girl” by The Beach Boys, and “Go Where You Wanna Go” by The Mamas and the Papas, to name just a very few.

Nothing has ever propelled me back to a feeling of what the 1960’s must have felt like though quite like the wordless melody of the amazing song “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck quartet, and I can’t tell you why. I can’t possibly tell you why. Maybe it is the care-free, loping piano melody. Maybe it is the subtle, gorgeous saxophone of Paul Desmond. Maybe it is Joe Morello’s skittering drum solo (one of the few worthwhile drum solos in history of popular music).

Though the song carries Dave Brubeck’s name, it was actually written by Desmond, and doesn’t that make sense? He owns this song. He plays the saxophone like Levon Helm plays the drums. Gently. Fluidly. Effortlessly. I have read the sound that Desmond got from his saxophone compared to the taste of a dry, red wine. Perfect.

Desmond is all over this song, and though it is carried through by Brubeck’s left hand playing a rolling, repetitive bass melody, it is Desmond’s saxophone that gives the song it’s flavor, color and character. You can listen to the song, and imagine a young woman happily walking through Central Park on a sunny afternoon. The sound is sweet, and sunlit. The melody is nostalgic.

“Take Five” is the third track off the groundbreaking Time Out album by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. There is no song on the entire album that is in the traditional 4/4 time. “Blue Rondo a la Turk” in 9/8 time. “Three to Get Ready” in 3/4 time. “Strange Medowlark” begins with no time signature at all. Musical styles from around the world are explored. Rhythms are changed mid song. The album is experimental and conceptual, and was largely panned by critics upon its release.

Listening to the album now, however, it is easy to see how far ahead of their time the Dave Brubeck quartet was. They put a round peg into a square hole. They took the sometimes challenging time signatures of international modern jazz and made the songs interesting and easy to listen to. Morello’s drums are inviting. Desmond’s saxophone is welcoming. Brubeck’s piano effortlessly guides everything.

Though the album did not sell particularly well upon its release in 1959, “Take Five” ultimately became the biggest selling jazz single of all time. I was first exposed to the music when I came upon its remastered, rereleased version in the late 1990’s, and I was floored at how accessible the music was, and how much I enjoyed it. I was frustrated with the older, wiser music aficionado’s in my life that they had never introduced this music to me before. Though, if they had tried to do that, I would have most likely ignored Time Out simply because I had not discovered it on my own. It has since become one of my very favorite albums.

Whatever the reason, whenever the time, listen to “Take Five” and Time Out. Take the time.

“Take Five”
Written by Paul Desmond
Performed by the Dave Brubeck Quartet
Released May 22, 1961

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