Dec 12

The Dave Brubeck Quartet: “Take Five” / “Unsquare Dance” (In Memoriam)

Dave Brubeck Quartet -- Time Out

Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012

Take Five (1959)

Unsquare Dance (1961)

I often, somewhat morbidly, wonder what my next “In Memoriam”-type post will be, always with a slight sense of dread. And with the discovery of who it is usually comes, unsurprisingly, a sense of sadness. But it isn’t simply sadness that the person is gone; it’s also sadness at the finality of the closing of a certain era of your own life. Depending on the artist and how you were affected by them, that might mean particular memories as an adult, fond memories (or not-so-fond) that are stirred up and blended with the new knowledge of that musican’s passing. Alternately, it might be an association with a part of your childhood that you have long since outgrown but which, via the death of that artist, now has had the door firmly shut on it, giving it a sense of closure whether you like it or not.

And the latter is the case for me: jazz legend Dave Brubeck passed away yesterday morning, the day before his 92nd birthday. My father was (and still is) a big Dave Brubeck fan, so I heard quite a bit of Brubeck when I was young. The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s hugely successful 1959 album, Time Out, could be heard quite frequently, and I grew to love much of it, particularly the song that Brubeck became best known for, “Take Five” (it went to #25 on the Billboard pop charts in 1962, very impressive for any jazz release — Time Out itself hit #2 on the Billboard pop album charts and remains one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time). It became one of the songs tangentially associated with my most enjoyable young memories of New York City and New Jersey, where I lived, and happy moments at home with my family. To this day it still conjures up those images. So while there may be less obvious choices with which to pay tribute to Dave Brubeck, there is no more meaningful choice for me. Granted, much of the song’s beauty is not in Brubeck’s repeating piano figure, but rather in the alto sax work of the great Paul Desmond, who actually was the song’s composer, and the drumming of Joe Morello, but it’s under Brubeck’s leadership that the song became the classic that it is.

I’m including a second Brubeck track today as well, the cool and unusual “Unsquare Dance,” written by Brubeck and which appears on the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s 1961 album, Time Further Out (the song was yet another Billboard Top 100 hit, albeit only up to #74). It’s a hip little number, doubtlessly used frequently by dance troupes around the world over the years for its sparse, hep-cat feel. “Unsquare,” indeed. Hard for anyone not to feel a bit hep-cat-like when listening to it, really, so who could blame them? Both “Unsquare Dance” and “Take Five” play with unusual time signatures, one of Brubeck’s signature moves (pun intended).

Fortunately, although it was so long ago that I don’t recall too many details, I did get to see Dave Brubeck play live back around 1979 as part of the Boston Globe Jazz Festival, which I was taken to by my parents. Assuming you don’t count the show Beatlemania, it was my first live concert (I believe Gerry Mulligan was also playing; wish I remembered the entire lineup), and although I don’t remember what Brubeck played, I’m sure he did “Take Five,” and I know that I thoroughly enjoyed the show. So in a way, I’ve got him to thank for making my introduction to concerts so enjoyable — the first of hundreds later to come.

Thankfully for those of us who continue on after a musician’s passing, we will always have the recordings to go back to, even though the creative force and live talent has been silenced. And equally thankfully, Dave Brubeck has left us with an expansive body of work that music listeners will continue to discover and be inspired by for many years to come. If you haven’t yet listened, there’s no time like the present to get started.

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