Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

January/February 2013: Sean Sam

Dave Brubeck Quartet: Time Out

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Born to a Stockton, California cattle-rancher who was also a rodeo champion, David Warren Brubeck was roping steers by the time he was fourteen and thinking of a career on the rodeo circuit. But his mother, a pianist and his first teacher, had a different dream for young Dave. It was undoubtedly her influence that encouraged his quantum leap from steer-wrestling to enrolment in classical music studies at the College of the Pacific in Stockton.

Brubeck went on to study theory with Darius Milhaud at Mills College in Oakland and that’s when he first joined forces with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, an association that turned out to be one of the most successful in jazz history. They formed a quartet with bass and drums and soon became one of the most popular bands on the college concert circuit. They were also among the first to issue live recordings of their concerts, something that is commonplace today. The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s recordings in the 1950s and 1960s were enormous commercial and artistic successes, propelling jazz onto the pop charts. “Take Five,” a single release from the Quartet’s 1969 album, Time Out [Columbia/Legacy #CK 65122], was the first jazz record to turn gold.

Time Out is a cool and melodic masterpiece, a glorious experience in odd rhythms. In his liner notes to the 1997 reissue, Brubeck wrote, “The album defied all expert predictions, and instead of becoming an experimental dud, of interest only to other musicians, had caught on with the general public.” Time Out was a potpourri of different time signatures that broke the 4/4 mould. They ranged from the awkward 5/4 of “Take Five” to the odd 9/8 of “Blue Rondo à la Turk,” to the swinging 6/4 of “Pick of Sticks” and “Everybody’s Jumpin’.”

The album’s standout track, “Take Five,” was written by saxophonist Paul Desmond. He said his inspiration for the song came from standing in front of a slot machine in Reno trying to duplicate the rhythm, but in reality it was a blending of two themes that Brubeck suggested Desmond combine. The title was Brubeck’s idea and met with resistance because Desmond didn’t think that anybody would get the joke about the unusual metre. Desmond died in 1977 and willed his royalties from the song to the American Red Cross.

The brilliant “Blue Rondo à la Turk,” with its classical overtones, comes from a rhythm Brubeck had heard being played by street musicians in Istanbul. The relaxing “Strange Meadow Lark” is derived from the call of a meadowlark, and “Kathy’s Waltz” is named after his daughter. Every track is a keeper and is played with exuberance and virtuosity.

Brubeck’s severest critics say he was heavy-handed and relied too much on playing block chords. This is a bit too harsh of a criticism, as his playing is often quite inspired. Brubeck’s true genius, however, can be found in his compositions and in his selection of exceptional players.

Desmond’s polished alto saxophone is the most recognizable part of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s sound. On Time Out, his interjected phrases are lyrical, playful, and melancholy. Joe Morello was a supremely accomplished drummer who was advanced rhythmically, and bassist Eugene Wright laid down a forceful, solid beat.

Time Out is an elegantly crafted record that keeps getting better with age.

Ross Porter © 2006

Dave Brubeck (1920 – 2012) by Steve Kirby

Even apart from his musical contribution, I see Dave Brubeck as one of the most extraordinary people of jazz. His star rose in the 50s, a period of time when racial intolerance was intense.

In 1954 (several years before Time Out and “Take Five”), Brubeck hit the cover of Time magazine. He was embarrassed by the attention, and felt strongly that it was a blatant race-based dismissal of deserving musicians like Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie and other African-American jazz artists. So he cut a deal with the promoters who wanted to give him a world tour based on his newfound fame: he would only do the tour if he could have Duke Ellington’s band open for him everywhere in the world. He fought for that—and he won.

Brubeck’s first recording appeared in 1949, and he has continued to perform, record, and compose since that time. Over his decades-long career, he received many accolades, including three honorary doctorates, a National Endowment Award, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dave Brubeck died on December 5, 2012, a day before his 92nd birthday. He will be remembered not only as a musician, but as a humanitarian and a visionary.

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