The third album I imagine was standard issue for a 60’s college student trying to look collegiate would be the famous Time Out from The Dave Brubeck Quartet. With this album, Dave and the guys showed us you could swing in all sorts of uneven time signatures. The most famous tune from the record is “Take Five”, which was penned by Paul Desmond, and was the only tune on the album not composed by Brubeck. The clever hook with “Take Five” is that it is in 5/4 (with five beats in each measure), not the usual four beats per measure. There are other famous compositions in 5/4, including the Mission Impossible theme song and the waltz movement from Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. Those two examples don’t swing like the Brubeck Quartet.
Born in California, Brubeck grew to be an important figure in the world of jazz music. Originally he went to college to be a veterinarian, but even his teachers saw that his attention was focused on something else. In his early college years in the music school, he didn’t read music, playing by ear and faking his way through with such skill that it was quite a while before his professors found him out. He was actually almost expelled for this one issue, but had shown such ability, and talent in general, that a few professors came to his defense. (He later did learn to read and write music notation, and has many large and small scale compositions to his credit).
Brubeck also suffered a terrible spinal injury while surfing, an accident so severe that at first he was not expected to recover. He did recover, however, with some residual nerve pain in his arm and wrists. This lingering pain is sometimes talked about as an influence in Dave’s piano style, lending him to big block chords more often than the fast single lines in the style of say, Art Tatum. Whatever the reasons, Brubeck has a very recognizable, great individual voice at the piano. I had the good fortune of seeing Dave Brubeck play at the Detroit Jazz Festival in 2009, 89 years young, and he still could make that grand piano shake with a blues that made you think the keys were going to fly off.
Another very recognizable musical voice on this record is heard from Paul Desmond on alto saxophone. He has a crystal clear, sweet sounding tone on sax that few other players display. There is not even a hint of harshness in his playing. His solos also have clear, lyrical lines that make many of the records of the Quartet very accessible to listeners. This clearly helped with the popularity of some of the group’s albums.
There are a number of things that make me think of this album as one an early 60’s college student might have. The Dave Brubeck Quartet had great success touring college campuses and bringing their music to the student body. There are several live recording from these performances, including Jazz Goes to College, Jazz at Oberlin, and Jazz at the College of the Pacific. The Desmond tune, “Take Five”, from this record had a good bit of popular success that would bring the album attention. In fact, Brubeck went on to record a few albums with the “time” theme, following this one with Time Further Out. Lastly, the guys had short hair, were well dressed and were all white, if that sort of thing mattered to your parents. As far as I know, all of the members of Brubeck’s group were clean and did not use drugs, so the conservative parent couldn’t criticize that either. This album was safe on those fronts.
Again, I could be way off base on this image I have in my head. I wasn’t around for the 1960’s, and from what I understand, the people that were there may not remember as much as you think. All three of the albums in this brief blog series of mine are legendary recordings that have sold thousands of copies for over five decades. They have stood the test of time for years. I’ll be happy if someone is still reading this blog NEXT WEEK!