Dave Brubeck – A Tribute

Dave Brubeck, jazz pianist and composer died on the 5th of December 2012, just one day short of his 92nd birthday. With his loss we have had to say goodbye to the last remaining Jazz great from the Golden Age of Jazz.


Though much younger than such jazz icons as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie or Duke Ellington, Brubeck belonged to the generation of Jazz musicians who came to the fore in the 50s and 60s through Cool Jazz. Though he never played with Miles Davis (Davis was born in 1926, Brubeck in 1920), he was his contemporary, and this vanguard of artists were the ones who made jazz a popular art form in the late 50’s and 60′ – a period that can now regarded as the heyday of jazz, when Jazz musicians might be on the cover of magazines, spotted in St Tropez and sought after for interviews.


Dave Brubeck is most commonly associated with the music of his famous quartet, which featured Paul Desmond on Alto Sax, Joe Morello on drums and either Eugene Wright or Joe Benjamin on Bass. The line-up featuring Brubeck and Desmond was active from 1952 till 1968, and the so-called Classic Quartet mentioned earlier was together from 1958 – 1968. The quartet wrote jazz history with the release of the classic album Time Out in 1959, which included the jazz hit Take Five (which was written in 5/4 time). Although Brubeck wrote almost all the compositions for the quartet, it is ironic that the tune they are most identified with, Take Five, was actually penned by Desmond. The album consisted of tunes in odd time signatures, and the label, Columbia, had to actually be talked into releasing the album, as they thought it was far too advanced for the listening public!  The follow-up album, Time Further Out, also included the hit Unsquare Dance (in 7/4 time). Brubeck and Desmond were musically, on paper at least, an unlikely paring. Desmond, lyrical and soft, Brubeck rhythmic and, as his critics would point out, at time thunderous and heavy-handed. But opposites clearly attracted and this musical partnerhsip created some of the most wonderful music of the 20th century.



When I started learning jazz, and started playing Brubeck’s pieces, I often struggled playing the left hand – I could not imagine how anyone could play such large intervals. Some years later I went to see Brubeck play (this was in the last 90s) in Frankfurt, and my Dad persuaded the security people to allow us backstage, and I could meet the great man. He was incredibly friendly and courteous, even though endless scores of people wanted to meet him. And I got to shake his hand, and suddenly the riddle of how he could play those patterns in the left hand was solved. Brubeck had the most enormous hands, and had he been English, he would have made a great slip fielder in cricket. He also signed my favourite cd of his quartet: Jazz Themes of Eurasia. My mother said that when she heard that Paul Desmond had died (aged 52 in 1977) she cried – I would have only been two years old, so cannot remember this. But I can recall feeling a similar shock when my piano playing heroes Kenny Kirkland and Esbjörn Svenson died before their time. When musicians are lost to the world far too early in their lifetime, there is a real sense of loss, of what could have been. With Dave Brubeck we can celebrate a lifetime of achievement, and salute and say farewell to the last remaining Jazz greats.


Thank you for all the great music, Dave.


Lincoln Jaeger


The Selmer Cigar Cutter – A Classic Sax (Buying An Alto Saxophone)

Hi Everyone

I recently had the good fortune to buy a new alto sax. Well I say buy, I was actually trading/exchanging my beloved Yanagisawa s880 soprano sax for an alto. As my soprano was in good nick (though 15 years old) the plan was to trade it (hopefully) for something equally good 2nd hand, or pay a bit extra for a brand new sax.

Why was I getting rid of my soprano though? Well, I never really had the time to play it properly, and the soprano sax, let me tell you, is not the sort of instrument you can just occasionally have a blow on: it needs serious dedication. The intonation is a pain to get right, and it is very difficult not to make a sound like a squeezed duck. Even one of my favourite saxophonists, Branford Marsalis, in my opinion has certain duck-like qualities in his soprano sound, so what chance do I have to make the instrument sound good? Unless you play it all the time, it can seriously hurt your jaw, as the pressure you have to apply to get to the high notes is quite extreme.

So anyway, should I get a new sax or a second hand one, and how much would I get for my soprano? Well, saxophones are a bit like 2nd hand cars, there is little point in buying a new one, as a well maintained second hand sax gives you much, much better value for money, and horns last a very, very long time: dents, scratches, pads: all can be fixed and repaired (unless you decided to drive over your sax with a 2nd hand car, then it will only be good for hanging on the wall ;-).

But where to start? I stumbled across a very quirky sax repair shop just down the road from me in Hove (that’s on the English South Coast). The guy who runs it, Rupert Noble, is quite a character: deeply passiontae and highly knowledgeable about horns (here is Rupert with some off his many vintage saxes).

You won’t find a single new horn in his shop, but many vintage ones and many others that are currently being repaired. Whilst I was in his workshop a very happy succesion of musicians came and went to have a chat, a cup of tea, try out some horns, and have broken ones repaired or serviced. Someone should write a book about this place. To say it has character is an understatmenet. Anyway, moving on, I got to try out (i.e. submit poor Rupert to my very rusty sax playing) some vintage, basic Yamaha altos, an old Toneking (Keilwerth), SML (Strasser-Marigaux), vintage Yanagisawa (though they were sold under a different name in the US) and a Selmer Cigar Cutter (a.k.a. Pea Shooter, Super). The Yamahas were very easy to blow, but lacked a little character, but are highly recommended for beginners as the tone production was simple and easy. The three others were all different, each with their own personality. I was going to have to come back for a second try to decided which one I might want to purchase.

A day later I headed up to London to check out some brand new horns, just for comparison, and some nearly new ones. A Selmer Mark VII (Circia 1981), new Yanagisawa A901 and various new Yamaha Models.

The difference between the nearly new/new and vintage saxes was indescribable. The vintage saxes at Rupert’s shop had warmth, character and sheer class, whereas the new ones felt like playing a piece of plastic. Now the sax isn’t my first instrument but even I could tell these differences immediately. The contrast between the Selmer Mark VII (circa 1981) and The Selmer Cigar Cutter (circa 1930), was especially interesting to note. Here were two saxes form the same maker, one sounded like a playground toy (Mark VII), the other like a work of art (Cigar Cutter). Yet the Mark VII was substantially more expensive. The only very slight downside was that the Cigar Cutter had its lacquer coming off – in fact it looked as though it had been re-lacquered at some point in its life, and this was now coming off. But to anyone contemplating buying a vintage sax: this does not matter one bit. In fact some argue that saxes sound better with the lacquer removed. If need be you can have the whole sax stripped of its lacquer or even have it subsequently re-lacquered: but if the sound is great, don’t mess with it.

Amongst sax players it is a well known fact that Selmer seem to have stopped making good saxes some time in the 70s. The theories as to why this may be abound (just check out various internet forums on this), but logic tells me that more and more machines were used to finish the products, rather than using expensive craftsmen, corners and quality of materials were cut in production, etc, and suddenly you have a less superior horn.

So in the end it was the Selmer Cigar Cutter I went for. It seems to have layers and layers of sound in it, and suited my more soft sound on the sax very well. After all, my hero Paul Desmond played a Selmer Alto, though a Super Balanced Action (circa 1951), so a model 20 years younger. Here is my new pride and joy:

The reason why that particular version of Selmers altos were nick-named Cigar Cutters or Pea Shooter is due to the design of the octave mechanism (see picture). Their official seris name is “Super”. The Super series ran from 1931 to 1935 and was followed by the Balanced Action Series.

So anyone contemplating buying a vintage sax: go for it, as long as you can try it out first (never buy any instrument without trying it out first) and buy it from a reputable shop.

Oh and by the way, playing an alto or tenor is a million times easier than paying the soprano.

Hope that was useful :-).

Lincoln Jaeger


Great Jazz Tracks – No. 1: Take Five

Hello Everyone

Along with our series about Classical Tunes You Didn’t Realise You Knew, we are going to start a series looking at Great Jazz Tracks (and albums).

Today we are taking a look a Take Five, which is often wrongly attributed to have been written by Dave Brubeck. In fact it was Brubeck’s alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond, who wrote the track. The story goes that Desmond and the drummer in the band, Joe Morello, used to go through a warm-up routine before gigs, which entailed Morello playing a beat in 5/4 time to which Desmond started developing two themes.

After some time of doing this, Desmond approached Brubeck because he wanted to turn the two seemingly disparate themes into one song. Brubeck suggested using one theme as the main melody and the other as the bridge. If you listen to Take Five you can clearly here how it is made up two separate sections. And thus Take Five was born.

But the story of course does not end there. The piece was used on the album Time Out, which was release in 1959, and featured the then standard line-up of the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Desmond on alto sax, Brubeck on piano, Eugene Wright on double bass and Joe Morello on drums. The idea behind Time Out was to write pieces that did not use the traditional time signature of 4/4, i.e. four steady beats (or “four to the floor”, if you like your drum’n’bass and techno). The result is an album that, especially at the time, was highly experimental: no-one had ever really tried this sort of thing. The record company, Columbia, in fact thought it too advanced and refused to release the album, fearing terrible sales. Brubeck had to intervene to convince the label bosses to finally release Time Out, and amazingly, the album became a hit (in those day jazz still played a part in the consciousness of the general public).

Take Five obviously takes its title from its time-siganture, which is in 5/4. Why is 5/4 so odd? Well it is the musical equivalent of walking with a limp. The number 5 is not nice and symmetrical, unlike 4, so it can feel as though you have an extra beat in the bar. Check out our Take Five sheet music so you can see and hear exactly what is going on. To write pieces in 5/4 that actually work well and flow (rather than sounding contrived and limping) is therefore actually really tricky. In the Pop/Rock world Sting is someone who has suceeded at this. His tune Seven Days is also in 5/4.

Most pieces in 5/4 actually subdivide the bar into a set of 3 beats followed by 2 beats (3+2), or 2 beats followed by 3 beats (2+3). In take Five’s case its 3+2, so if you are counting along with the intro you would count:

1 2 3 1 2

Try it – this really works.

The funny thing is to initiated ears you can hear how Joe Morello actually struggles a bit during his solo in 5/4 – you can feel how to the whole group playing in 5/4 is still such a new thing.

Take Five went on to almost become a signature tune for jazz, with the Album Time Out always featuring at the very top of the all time top jazz album sales charts. I also doubt there is a single concert that Brubeck has played since Take Five was first released without being able to play it. Every time I have seen him play he’s certainly played it, and almost always towards the end of the gig.

After Desmond’s very sad and early death of lung cancer in 1977 he left all the future proceeds of Take Five to the Red Cross.

Below is a recording of Take Five taken from a concert in Germany in 1966:

And here is a video of Sting’s Seven Days.


Lincoln Jaeger


Christmas Sheet Music Selection 2

Hi There.

Welcome to our second Christmas Sheet Music selection. Once again we have tried to choose from a broad variety of pieces from the 100s of Christmas tunes that we offer here at Great Scores. If you are looking for even more inspiration then check out our full list of Christmas tunes here.

Louis Armstrong
Winter Wonderland

Silent Night

Paul McCartney
Wonderful Christmas Time

Band Aid
Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Frank Sinatra
Jingle Bells

Bing Crosby
O Holy Night

The Ronettes
Frosty The Snow Man

Merry Xmas Everybody

Brenda Lee
Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree

Are you looking for jazzy arrangements of Christmas tunes? Then try our Jazzy Christmas Collection

We hope you have a musical Christmas with Great Scores.


What is a standard, a chorus, a head arrangement?

Let’s take a look at three terms that are often used when people talk about jazz improvisation: a “standard”, a “chorus” and the “head” or “head arrangement”.

What do jazz musicians improvise on/over?

They usually use a song, and improvise over its chord structure. Very often these are so called “standards”. These standards are actually tunes from Broadway shows such as George Gershwin’s “Summertime” or “I got rhythm“. Often people don’t realise that these tunes actually originated in shows; jazz musicians just took them, played them, soloed on them, rearranged them, in short: they did their own thing with them. Over time these tunes had become so common in the world of jazz that musicians started referring to them as “standards”. You can now buy whole books full of jazz standards. These standards are usually 32 bars long. Most pop songs are 32 bars as well – this is due to the fact that most self-contained sections of a song are 8 bars long. So the first section, or A section, of a song would be 8 bars. You would then repeat those 8 bars (because they were so great the listener wants to hear them again), then play a new section (B Section), and then repeat the original A section. Hence you often hear people referring to an AABA structure, or a (8+8+8+8=) 32 bar song form.

You could also improvise over the standard 12 bar blues or an original jazz piece, such as “Cantaloupe Island” by Herbie Hancock. Cantaloupe Island happens to be 16 bars long, which is slightly unusual.

Now if you have finished one complete run through/improvisation from the first bar to the last bar of tune, you call that one “chorus”. If you’ve played through twice that would be two “choruses”, etc. There are no hard and fast rules over how many choruses one should play for a solo, but it depends on the player. John Coltrane for example didn’t know when to stop, and rumour has it that he once started playing in the taxi on the way to a gig, so I guess the audience (and the rest of the band) missed the first part.

The speed of the piece is also important. If you are playing a really slow ballad, you probably don’t want to play too may choruses, but naturally on faster pieces you end up playing more choruses. Musicians also usually play longer solos on a gig than they do on records. Drummers, when they do solo, sometimes have shorter solos, though there is also a tradition of giving the drummer just one solo for the night, and letting him have a really long one. There are many viscous rumours that most punters use this opportunity to pop to the loo (wc). Tut tut.

Once every member of the band (who wanted to improvise) has finished his or her solo, you would normally return back to playing the actual theme of the song. You call this the “head” or “head arrangement”. But on some occasions players may slot in “trading fours” (or indeed trading twos or eighths).

You may sometimes see a musician pointing to his head on a band-stand – this is the signal for everyone to return to the head of the piece.

Within a jazz performance the lead player would usually play the head first, which would be followed by the solos (of each band member who wanted to improvise) and the head to finish. So the most common form for a jazz quartet consisting of sax, piano, bass an drums playing a standard would be:

1st Solo (Sax, probably 3-6 Choruses)
2nd solo (Piano, probably 3-6 Choruses)
Option 3rd/4th Solo (If drums/bass probably often one chorus, but could be longer)
Optional trading Twos/Fours/Eighths

Take care,



What does "Trading Fours" mean?

Trading fours is not something you should walk up to a person on the street and enquire about.

“Hey. Do you want to trade fours?”

Or they might well reply:

“You’re asking for a bunch of fives!”

But on the jazz bandstand this is a very common technique used to introduce a little variety into a piece.

Once members of the band have finished their improvisation, you would normally return back to playing the actual theme of the song. You call this the “head” or “head arrangement”. But on some occasions players may slot in “trading fours” (or indeed trading twos or eighths) before playing the head to finish the performance.

Now trading fours involves the following: the lead player (saxophonist for example) improvises four bars, then a different player (pianist for example) improvises four bars. The lead player does another four bars and the 2nd player another four, etc.. All of this is done over the form of the piece, so you could do several choruses of fours. The shape of this is in the form of a musical conversation, so the two players usually react musically to the phrases in the four bars the other player has just played. Quite often the lead player in the group will “‘trade” fours with the drummer, as this means the texture of the whole piece changes. This would mean that while the lead player is playing his four bars, the whole band would still be accompanying him, but the drummer would usually play his four bars solo (though the pianist and bassist may but in little stabs here and there).

Now you could also trade 8 bars or 2 bars with someone, but 4 bars are most common, as is usually “feels” like the right length. This would obviously again depend on the speed of the piece, so you may want to trade “8’s” on a really fast piece, but “2’s” on a slow ballad.

How would you know when the lead player wants to start trading fours? Well there may be a prior agreement that you want to trade fours on a specific piece. Sometimes however, it is better to be spontaneous. If the lead player, after, say the piano improvisations, will start soloing again rather than returning to the main tune, then this would usually indicate to the rest of the band that it’s time to trade fours. The lead player might then, through a little nod indicate which player he wishes to trade fours with.

Of course there are many silly variations of this one could some up with. Trading fours around the band for example, or trading odd numbers – though this is tricky and has great potential for a train wreck (the performance falls apart) as well as sounding a little contrived and not fitting onto the lengths of a “standard” (32 bars). The scenarios I outlined above however are the most common.

Lincoln Jaeger


The crazy cats have taken their horns and are woodshedding!

Yes indeed. You may ask yourself what this crazy headline is all about.

Well, haven written about how daunting it can be to get into the music of jazz, I thought I might use this blog to talk a little about the strange lingo, the colloquialisms, the vernaculars, call it what you want, basically the inside language that exists in the world of jazz.

Let’s start by de-mystifying the header shall we?

Cats = musicians (though most of you probably already knew this)
Horn = instrument (even if it’s now a horn!)
To Woodshed = to go and practice. This comes from the fact that some musicians have been known to go and practice in the shed in the garden. Most likely because practising can be quite a horrible cacophony for anyone to be subjected to.

So one could imagine a conversation between two jazz cats going something like this:

Cat A (Steve McQueen): “How’s your chops”
Cat B (Miles Davis): “My chops is beat”
Cat A: “Two bad – too much time in the shed?”
Cat B: “Naah, too much blowin on these gigs lately”
Cat A: “Oh yeah, been tryin’ out your new licks?”
Cat B: “Uh-huh, got some bad new hot licks!”
Cat A: “Good gig, was it?
Cat B: “The whole band was in the pocket”
Cat A: “Sweet, the whole bad was in the crease”


In plain English:

Cat A: “How is your playing” (chops could also refer to the lips of a brass player – they tend to get fatigued easily)
Cat B: “I’m worn out / I can’t play well / My lips/fingers etc are hurting”
Cat A: “Too bad – have you been practising too much?”
Cat B: “No, too much soloing/playing on these gigs lately”
Cat A: “Oh yeah, have you been trying out your snazzy new preconceived musical phrases (=licks)?”
Cat B: “Uh-huh, I’ve got some really good, fantastic new phrases” (bad=good)
Cat A: “Good gig, was it?”
Cat B: “The whole band was really playing like a unit, really grooving”
Cat A: “Sweet, the band was playing really well)”

Luckily our two jazz musicians decided to call it a day there, or we could have gone much longer…

As you can see, a bit of jazz language has actually found its way into main-stream language such as “cats” (musicians) and “bad” (good). Phrases like “The Big Apple” (New York), to “dig” (to like), “cans” (headphones) are said to have come from the world of jazz, though this is of course impossible to prove.

Regardless, there are of course many more expressions, so if you are interested in the meaning of such terms as:

  • Comping
  • Turnarounds/Turnbacks
  • Head
  • Trading Twos

… then please go to our Jazz Terms Glossary, where you can find even more jazz terms, including more technical expressions (with all the explanations) and all-round jazz madness!

Dig it.

Lincoln Jaeger


How to get into jazz

Jazz can be a daunting style of music to get into. I myself have made the mistake of trying to introduce a friend to jazz by picking what I thought was just the right gig, only to find that that particular artist had decided it was time to go “far out” for this one concert and therefore ensuring that said friend would never, ever, ever go to a jazz gig again.

The image doesn’t always help either: middle aged (nothing wrong with that!) guys in berets smoking their Gitanes cigarettes whilst knowingly nodding to the strange exhortations of the band, while you feel like the only person in the venue who does not have a clue what is going on.

It can be intimidating. But then so can guitar shops :-)!

But have you been to a jazz gig recently? Certainly here in London town smoking in any indoor venues has been out for quite a while, so you can now at least breath! Berets don’t seem to be “en vogue” anymore either – so things are clearly looking up.

That just leaves the music. If you want to get into jazz, picking out a random gig is probably not the best way to go about it: you might have selected the latest avant garde cutting edge Bass Clarinet Cross Over Project, or Craig’s Octogenarian Dixieland Swingers – but you won’t really know until you’ve turned up.

So here are three albums that I would recommend as a great starting point for getting into the music called jazz. None of these are going to hurt your eardrums, nor your pocket (the itunes links go to the uk store, amazon links to the .co.uk site):

Kind of BlueMiles Davis (often referred to as being one of the best music albums ever, not just for jazz). Stand-out tracks:
All Blues
We also have the Miles Davis Tumpet Solo on All Blues
So What
You can get the sound recording at: Miles Davis - Kind of Blue / Amazon

Getz/GilbertoAntonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, Stan Getz. This is the album that introduced Bossa Nova to the world and launched the evergreen “Girl from Ipanema”. Stand-out tracks:
The Girl from Ipanema
One Note Samba
You can get the sound recording at: Astrud Gilberto, Joao Gilberto & Stan Getz - Getz / Gilberto / Amazon

Time OutDave Brubeck. Columbia records had to be convinced to release this, yet it had the jazz hit Take Five on it. Stand-out tracks:
Take Five
Blue Rondo A La Turk
You can get the sound recording at: The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Out / Amazon

I could extend this list further, but I can say without doubt that these three albums, after much consideration, and having introduced them to many a non-jazz lover, are the three most sure-fire ways to introduce the most sceptical person to jazz.

Now go out and buy, and dig them :-)!

Lincoln Jaeger


We've been busy…

We’ve not posted for a while – very remiss of us! However, we have been very busy over the last few months, adding two new languages to our site: Dutch and Swedish as well as adding Swedish Kroner as a currency.

So a big welcome to our new users in Sweden and Holland, even if this blog is in English :-).

Soon we will also add Danish and Norwegian (as well as the local currencies to go with these new territories), which means we will have added a total of 7 new languages in the space of 13 months.

What else has been happening? Well we have been preparing the new videos that we have promised you in previous blogs, so get ready for more regular videos, blog postings and fascinating downloads that will open up the world of Jazz to you in the new year.

And finally we’ve also been celebrating our 4th birthday in October. The site went live in October 2005 in English and German with just a 1,000 arrangements. Since then we have grown to over 30,000 arrangements and have welcomed users from another 5 new languages to our site.

So to finish, who better to play us a little Happy Birthday tune than Wynton Marsalis and his Septet: