The music that Dave Brubeck created during his years with the 'classic quartet' - featuring Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on bass - became his most recognized and celebrated compositions. Although he had recorded with other quartets before and has played with others since, no other group has generated the same creative magic. Dave knew as soon as he heard Morello and Wright audition for his group that their sounds would mix well with the style that he and Desmond had created.
'It's to Dave Brubeck's credit that he was able to hear these musicians that played very differently from him and was able to see that by taking them and getting their different sounds he was adding, not subtracting,' says author and jazz historian Ted Gioia. 'Dave had an instinct for difference and how that was going to add to his music. It explained why people found it so appealing; They were able to hear the individual personalities of each of those four players, but also it cohered as a whole. It was the classic example of the whole being more than the sum of the parts.'
Each member of Dave's classic quartet brought his own unique personality and talents to the group. And while all were good musicians in their own right, they created a synergy when they played together that resonated with audiences all over the world.
'The Dave Brubeck Classic Quartet was remarkable for its ability to combine opposites,' Gioia comments. 'I'm reminded of the ancient Greeks; they said that the universe was made out of earth, air, fire, and water, and the Brubeck Quartet was just like that.
'I think you had these four individual elements. The earth there to my mind was Eugene Wright, a very earthy bass player. He was always grounded. The beat almost sounded like back in the Kansas City days, like Count Basie and that earthiness. The fire was Joe Morello on drums - one of the fieriest drummers in modern jazz. Not only was he able to play these very difficult time signatures, but he could make them swing - could really make it cook. And this brought a new element to Brubeck's Quartet. Now the air, Paul Desmond - that airy, breathy sound, maybe the most beautiful alto sound anyone's ever heard. But also with it, a sort of logic and that sense of humor. And finally the water to me was Dave Brubeck. And like water, sometimes you can be a tidal wave; you can be very powerful; other times it could be placid like a lake.'
'And Brubeck brought that, that ability to flow in at the right moments in the right ways. I think what people found most appealing about the Brubeck Quartet was that they could understand and hear each of those individual sounds. They could hear Morello's personality and Wright's and Desmond's and Brubeck's, and there was that individualism but it also cohered. It was really magical how that happened.'
Brubeck's musical inspiration, from the western ranch where he grew up to the classical music influences from his mother and from his mentor, French avant-garde composer Darius Milhaud, are evident in the 500-plus songs the jazzman has written in his long career. But it is his use of polytonality and polyrhythm that really set him apart from his peers in the 50's and 60's. Brubeck honed his technique while playing with the Octet at Mills College in the late 1940's, and its offspring, the Dave Brubeck Trio. By the time he formed the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the early 50's, he was eager to expand his sound even further. In the late 1950's, when Wright and Morello joined the group, Brubeck knew it was the right moment to push the musical envelope.
It was with this determination that the Quartet went into the recording studio in July 1959. That session produced the album, Time Out, named for the odd time signatures it unveiled, such as 'Blue Rondo a la Turk' in 9/8 time, and the song that would become the Quartet's biggest hit, Take Five, in 5/4 time.
'Joe Morello was playing and then improvising off of that beat backstage and Paul would pick up his horn and start playing against it,' Dave remembers. 'And I said, 'There's a tune I want to get into this album because it's in 5/4 time. So I said 'Paul, write down some of these things that you're playing against Joe's beat.' So he came to rehearsal and I said, 'Did you put anything down?' And he said, 'Yeah, I put a couple of themes down.' So he played one of 'em, then he played the other. And I said, 'Look if you repeat this one and then use that second theme as a bridge and then go back, you have the typical jazz form or the thirty-two bar form, which is A section, repeat A section, B section - which you call the bridge - and go back to A.' So that's what we did.' And with that, Take Five was born.
Dave knew they had created something really special with Time Out, but the marketing bigwigs at his label, Columbia Records, were less enthusiastic. 'Jazz Goes to College went over extremely well; and they wanted sort of more of the same,' Iola Brubeck recalls, 'Time Out was a step different from more of the same. It was all originals and [had] different time signatures and it no longer [had] just standard tunes.
'It was sort of a break from that, and they didn't want to rock the boat.' Dave adds, 'As an artist, you want to try and do something that's more interesting for you. You don't care about the record company. You're more interested in your music, and they resent that.'
After a year of refusing to compromise with Columbia's desire for old standards and show tunes, Dave won the battle and Columbia released the album, discovering that their fears were unfounded: Time Out became the first jazz record to go gold. Take Five rocketed to the top of the jazz charts and it generated enormous cross-over appeal, exposing new audiences to jazz music.
'Often people look at Dave within the context of jazz music' says Ted Gioia, 'In fact, Dave's influence was much broader than the jazz world. Billy Joel made a very interesting comment once; he said that what Sergeant Pepper was to most other rock musicians, Take Five was to him. Now this is very interesting. You look at someone who's working in the heart of rock and roll and he could find inspiration from Dave. And I think it is a testimony to the breadth of Dave's musical vision that even people outside of this inner circle of jazz, can find stuff that nurtures them and feeds their creativity.'
Even today, forty years later, Take Five remains a favorite tune with music fans of all ages and musical persuasions.