Take Five:  Bye, Dave, and Thanks!

By Shlomo  Maital   

 Take Five


   Jazz great Dave Brubeck died Wednesday in Norwalk, CT. He was 91.   His 1959 recording of Take Five was the first jazz single to sell a million copies.

  I think we can learn a lot from Dave Brubeck’s life and work.   He exemplifies what I call the Zoom Out/Zoom In approach to creativity.  Zoom out:  Scan the world for neat ideas.  (“Steal like an artist”, it is said. Or at least borrow, because you cannot steal what is given away).   Zoom in: Adapt what you borrow, to your own endeavor. On a State Dept. sponsored visit to Turkey, Brubeck heard street musicians playing a folk tune in 9/8 time. That is, 9 eighth-note beats to a bar. Pum-pum-pum-pum,  pum-pum-pum-pum (that’s eight, so far so good) and then..one more. Pum. And then do it again.  He asked himself, hey, why always play 4/4 time (one/two/three/four, the foxtrot rhythm)? Why not 5/4?  Or 7/4?  The result was Take Five.  After Turkey, he zoomed in on his own music and with his quartet, created new rhythms.   Take Five album also has a piece in 7/4 time:  one fox trot bar, followed by a waltz bar (3/4), and then, repeat… haunting.   

    Brubeck also proves the adage that innovation is intelligently breaking the rules – smashing them, ONLY after you have first learned them. Brubeck went to Mills College where he studied with the great French composer  Darius Milhaud.  Milhaud taught Brubeck how to compose fugues.  His first compositions were canons.  The impact on Brubeck’s jazz compositions was powerful. Brubeck knew the rules of classical music, and hence knew just how to break them with creative effect. (He named his child Darius after Milhaud). 

    Brubeck also knew the value of teamwork.  His alto sax player Paul Desmond was a perfect complement and foil to Brubeck’s piano. Desmond had an ethereal floating sweet tone (his sax dominates the Take Five recording, with Brubeck playing the haunting 5/4 rhythm in the background). 

     Paul Desmond died prematurely, in 1977.   He left the rights to royalties for performances and compositions, including “Take Five”, to the American Red Cross, which gets   approximately $100,000 per year.

   Bye, Dave.  Thanks for your creativity.  We still hear Take Five played on the radio all the time (it was the theme of the NBC “Today” show for years) and we never tire of it.