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.