Today is 5/4, aka Brubeck Day! While technically speaking, 5/4 Day should really be about Paul Desmond, since he was the one that wrote the 5/4 song that went to stardom, “Take Five” has become synonymous with the Dave Brubeck Quartet as a whole. As a result, we here at Raggy Waltz HQ always like to celebrate the day by highlighting one of our favorite “Take Five” performances. This year, we bring you two. Both are post-Desmond performances, and both take the tune far beyond Desmond’s initial conception of his humble little composition. To the music!
The first “Take Five” comes from vocalist Al Jarreau. In 1977, Jarreau released an album entitled ‘Look To The Rainbow’, which became a hit largely due to the inclusion of his spirited outing on “Take Five”. As good as that version was, this version, recorded by video cameras, is even more incredible. The groove that the musicians establish is ferocious, and Jarreau’s vocal treatment outshines the album’s. His delivery of the lyrics, written by Brubeck’s wife, Iola, are wry and suits the music perfectly.
The last version is by good old Brubeck. Recorded 10 years after the previous version by Jarreau, Brubeck’s version is a masterpiece. By this point, Brubeck had likely played the tune thousands of times. Every nook and cranny of the tune should have been exhausted by this time. After all, there’s only one chord to improvise on once you get past the opening hook. And yet, Brubeck slyly opens his solo before stumbling upon a door that he hadn’t yet gone through. With an amused smile, he opens the door, playing a bluesy phrase that shouldn’t fit in the minor mode of the music, but it does. Going further out on this limb, Brubeck toys with the major/minor keys, and before long, Brubeck is playing an impressionistic, cascading solo a la Debussy or Ravel. Just as he reaches the climax, he falls back to the minor vamp and its then that we realize just how far out Brubeck traveled. Again, it’s a masterpiece.
However you celebrate 5/4 Day, make sure it includes some Brubeck and not a little of Desmond, too!
P.S. Stay alert for part one of a series of posts that will include my interview with the late great George Wein, creator of the Newport Jazz Festival and the Storyville jazz club in Boston, MA!