In 1959, two albums were released that shook the jazz world: Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out, and Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. They tracked together through the charts, and both were certified Platinum in 1997. Davis’ has gone on to reach multi-platinum, but Brubeck’s music has probably reached more people.
The premise of the album Time Out was to explore music in different time signatures. Brubeck had been to Eastern Europe and experienced different tonalities, textures and unusual timing of their ethnic and popular music. He believed that jazz music had “become too tame” and that it was time for jazz to return to its “role of exploring more adventurous rhythms.”
Take Five, voted the #1 Quintessential Jazz work by listeners, was written by Brubeck’s band mate Paul Desmond. No matter how tired you are of hearing this tune as elevator muszak, the studio and live versions of the quartet playing this piece are stunning. This was 1959…the year Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash, and the Supremes were founded. Four-beat rock and roll was entering its heyday, and along comes a piece of music that had five beats!
Five beat music feels like stubbing your toe on a crack in the sidewalk once every four beats. Ouch! Five beat music hurts our natural rhythm. It causes us to hiccup or stumble, to always feel a bit unsteady.
Stubbing our toe forces us out of our comfort zone. Stumbling makes us anxious, worried that we’re not doing it right. Lurching uses muscles that we didn’t know we had. And although we may falter with awkward steps, eventually, we learn to find a new rhythm, one that can make us smile.
But after we’ve stubbed our toe a few (dozen) times, we discover that we’ve found a new rhythm. We have escaped the 4/4 box! We have a new gait, we swing a bit more, and we find that we’re enjoying the adventure of it.
Even if you’ve heard this music a thousand times . . . come to it with openness to hear something new, something surprising. Brubeck and Desmond solo over that relentless rhythm with soaring melodies that are entirely melded to the 5/4 rhythm. Their approach to the music has shifted so that they are one with the stumble and they make it feel like a beautiful dance.
Dave Brubeck Quartet
- Dave Brubeck – piano
- Paul Desmond – alto saxophone
- Eugene Wright – bass
- Joe Morello – drums
Blue Rondo a la Turk (this first song on the album is in 9/8, another unusual rhythm)
Strange Meadow Lark
Three to Get Ready
Pick Up Sticks
(another “famous” piece in 5/4)