Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 341
Sun, Dec 23, 2012

“Take Five”
Dave Brubeck Quartet


Did you know one of the most famous songs, “Take Five” from Quartet wasn’t even written by Dave Brubeck? It was Brubeck’s alto saxophonist Paul Desmond that composed “Take Five.” Brubeck explained how “Take Five” came to life in the studio as he explained Paul Zollo, “I told Paul to put a melody over (drummer) Joe Morello’s beat. So Paul put a couple melodies. But he didn’t have a tune. He just had two melodies. He said, ‘I can’t write a tune in 5/4,’ and he had given up. I said, ‘You’ve got two good melodies here, let’s work out a form.’ So I worked out an A-A-B-A form and Paul caught on immediately.”

What’s significant about “Take Five” is that it’s one of the first jazz songs to feature a time signature other than the traditional 4/4 or ¾ waltz time. By modernizing time signatures Desmond and Brubeck unknowingly changed American music history with the creation of the influential “Take Five.”

Regardless who penned “Take Five” Brubeck was still the mastermind of the whole operation. Dave made complex jazz signatures cool as John Fordham from The Guardian once wrote, “He [Brubeck] intertwined jazz swing with time-signatures that looked like algebra, and mingled standard song-forms with rondos and fugues.” Brubeck himself described the method to his jazz craft when he explained, “There’s not much difference between what I do as a jazz musician and as a classical composer; Beethoven and Bach were improvisers, so it’s not a big shift. The only shift is a jazz beat. What Bach was doing was so close to jazz. Stravinsky and Bartok were influenced by folk music and Bach used drinking songs for some of his compositions.”

Even though Desmond wrote “Take Five” drummer Joe Morello is the star of “Take Five.” Morello’s dynamic drum solo was a signature set piece during the Quartet’s live sets. The audience response to Morello’s drum solo was electric that it caused friction between saxophonist Desmond and drummer Morello. At the end of a gig Paul actually gave Brubeck an ultimatum, “Morello goes or I go.” Brubeck refused explaining, “Joe could do things I’d never heard anybody else do. I wanted to feature him. Paul objected. He wanted a guy who played time and was unobtrusive. I discovered that Joe’s time concept was like mine, and I wanted to move in that direction. Paul said I had to get another drummer; I told him I wouldn’t.

Thankfully Dave wouldn’t relent and kept Joe in the group. When asked where the 5/4 time signature came from Morello explained,” when he said, “It came from me. When Dave approached me he said do you think jazz can be played in any other tempo? I said sure, why not? And so Desmond came up with this tune. Dave wasn’t used to playing that tempo, he just had vamps. It wasn’t too long that he got right into it though and started to improvise over it. And the drum solo was really out, I just felt like doing that. It doesn’t have any (obvious) form, although there is a form. I just move it all around, that’s what made it interesting. People called me and said, ‘How long did it take?’ I said, ‘Not that long [laughs]! I got more comments on that darn drum solo. I hear it every day somewhere, so it was a very lucky thing. It was my idea. Everybody made a lot of money but me.

Brubeck’s name main still be the headliner the on marquee but even Dave knew how much Morello and Desmond deserved the accolades for their contribution to one of the most important jazz pieces in American Jazz. Brubeck himself called Joe, “The greatest drummer in the world.” Created back in 1959, someone asked 91 year old Brubeck, in 2012, why he still likes to perform his beloved jazz signatures, Brubeck said, “On a great night, playing live is one of my favorite things. When you have a great audience, something happens. Sometimes it’s just an accident. Some of the best things I’ve ever done were not planned. Sometimes it’s like winning a basketball game or a horse race – it’s something you can’t plan.”

Spoken like a true artist. The heart of jazz is improvisation, birthed from the sax of Paul Desmond, made legendary by Joe Morello’s drum solo in the quartet helmed by Dave Brubeck. I urge you to please “Take Five” and rediscover this piece de resistance, one of the most quintessential jazz signatures in modern American music history.