Monday Notes

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, Take Five. An unexpected success

Italian flag
Leggi in Italiano

[Monday’s Note No. 49] Take Five is one of the few pieces in the jazz repertoire to have the unusual time of 5/4, hence the double meaning of the title, which in English means “taking five minutes off” but also hints at the rhythmic tempo of the piece.

Although the author is Paul Desmond, the inspirer was undoubtedly Dave Brubeck who in 1959 conceived and recorded with his quartet the album Time Out. This album features numerous pieces of unusual tempo, breaking the custom of jazz music which is almost always played in 4/4 time, with an occasional jazz waltz in 3/4 time.

After the theme (0’22”) and Desmond’s solo (1’05”) we can hear the piano keeping time by playing a repeated vamp (1’55”).

Dave Brubeck Take Five, vamp del piano
Dave Brubeck Take Five, piano vamp

On this rhythmic figure of the piano is set the drum solo, which lasts more than twice as long as the sax solo, occupying in fact more than half of the entire piece. This reversal of roles, with the piano accompanying rhythmically and the drums as the main solo instrument, shows the quartet’s imagination and desire to experiment.

As well as being a successful piece of music, Take Five is a demonstration of how 5/4 time works. Thanks to the clarity of the piano accompaniment and the measured and precise phrases of the sax, the listener has no difficulty in counting to five and thus following the rhythm of the piece.

Starting with the title, Take Five does its best to reveal its secret to the listener and make him participate. It is therefore a successful piece, which also contains a music lesson on the tempo of 5/4.

E’ forse questa la spiegazione di un successo straordinario, assai superiore alle attese This is perhaps the explanation for an extraordinary success, far exceeding the expectations of the authors. When we can understand the mechanism behind a piece of music, we often get even more pleasure from it. This is certainly the case when listening to Take Five.

Until next Monday!

Do you want to receive my free lessons?

Sheet music, harmony lessons, music theory and musical analysis.