Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Take Five

Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond
Dave Brubeck’s Take Five was one of the best selling jazz singles of all time. It was released in 1959 on The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s album Time Out featuring their “West Coast Cool School of Jazz” style. Album producer Teo Macero oversaw this unlikely jazz hit that taught the world to groove to a new beat. The new feel of the quintuple meter (5/4) had a surprisingly successful mass appeal. The tune was debuted in 1959 at the famed New York City jazz club the Village Vanguard. By 1961, the recording of the tune that featured Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto Saxophone, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums reached the top 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart as a jazz instru­mental single.

It is ironic that even though Dave Brubeck was the principal composer for his group, Take Five was actually penned by his man on sax, the legendary Paul Desmond. Desmond (originally Breitenfeld) was born in San Francisco in 1924. As a boy, Desmond picked up the violin. Unfortunately, his father detested the instrument and forbade him to play it. Paul then switched to clarinet and later to the alto sax. During WWII he was in the Army band where he met Brubeck who was also from the Bay Area. After the War (around 1950), they hooked up again in California and formed a group calling it The Dave Brubeck Quartet. Ten years later, they sold a million copies of Desmond’s Take Five. Desmond has stated that the 5/4 rhythm idea came to him while he was playing a pinball machine – “pull-spin-spin, click-click.” Brubeck’s story of how the 5/4 meter groove evolved was a bit different. The band’s drummer, Joe Morello, liked to warm up in 5/4 during soundchecks and often would use a 5/4 beat in his nightly long-form drum solo. Paul wrote two themes to his band­mate’s drum patterns. After hearing these melody lines often, Brubeck suggested that they both work together to make a song form out of them calling the tune “Take Five.” The title had a hidden pun – not only making reference to the tune’s meter, but also to having to “take five” – a back stage break for the rest of the band – during Joe’s lengthy drum solos. It is reported that Desmond disliked the title at first - but it stuck!

Paul Desmond
Desmond had quite a sense of humor and wit. He claims that his chosen last name came randomly out of the phone book. He also jokingly said that he liked playing in The Dave Brubeck Quartet because he could lean on Brubeck’s piano during the show – which he did often report­edly driving Brubeck crazy. But when it came to his playing though, his personality was decidedly more serious. Most cited his beautiful lyricism – a conception of musical line that may have come from his initial love of the violin as a boy. It is ironic that while many jazz violinists can emulate the sound and style of the saxophone, Desmond may have been doing just the opposite. The legendary saxophonist Cannonball Adderley said of Desmond: “wonderful and lyrical.” Legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker described Desmond as: “my favorite alto player in the world.”

Dave Brubeck said of his beloved bandmate and composer of Take Five: “Some people called him the stork -- ‘Cause he would stand on one leg and leaned on the piano. But that…that was when he was playing great. What used to scare me is I’d look at him and it would just be whites in his eyes, wouldn’t be any eyeballs.”

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