JAZZ / Five on the floor: Dave Brubeck's 'Take Five' popularised jazz. Some people never forgave him. Phil Johnson reports

'Take Five' by the Dave Brubeck Quartet is the one jazz tune that everyone knows and loves, even people who can't stand jazz. Joe Morello's gently rolling drums and ticking cymbals lead into a Brubeck piano figure repeated so often that today it sounds like a sample. When Paul Desmond's mentholated alto sax eases in to tootle the melody, the effect is magical, so easy on the ear that the listener isn't aware of the awkward 5/4 time-signature that distinguishes the rhythm.

At the time 'Take Five' seemed like the epitome of cool sophistication; it also attracted the biggest audience jazz has ever had. Released as a UK single in October 1961, it made it to No 6 in the pop charts (it had reached No 25 in the US) and appeared on jukeboxes everywhere. The album it came from, Time Out, became a coffee-table accessory long before Sgt Pepper, the abstract painting on the cover hinting at all kinds of high-toned delights within. Even Brubeck and Desmond's horn- rimmed glasses seemed to signify their status as jazz intellectuals.

For some hardened jazz fans, however, the formula was too cute; to them, the mixture of jazz, pseudo-classical references and high-culture packaging seemed, in the argot of the times, square. As the Mad magazine parodies of the time had it, jazz like Brubeck's was for would-be hip suburbanites to drink dry Martinis to while talking psychoanalysis. Despite a follow-up single called 'Unsquare Dance', Brubeck has never entirely been forgiven for his prodigious success. 'Take Five' was actually composed by Paul Desmond, but Brubeck, now 71, his horn-rims long ago replaced by contact lenses, says he acted as its midwife. 'The tune was born in my front room,' he told me at his London hotel last week (he is in the UK for concerts with his new quartet). 'I had asked Paul and Joe Morello to come up with tunes in 5 / 4 because that was the rhythm that Joe played the best. Paul had two themes and I put them together. When I called it 'Take Five' he said he didn't like the title.'

Although Brubeck and Desmond (who died in 1977) had their disagreements, musically it was a perfect partnership: Desmond's soaring lyricism given a holding counterweight by the pianist's heavy block chords. 'I thought I had to provide a balance to him,' Brubeck says, 'though I could be very lyrical too if I wanted to be. Desmond was very inventive, night after night, and much more consistent then me. His tone was the best I've ever heard. He could play an octave above his range and still sound good.'

The famous Oberlin College recording of 1953 (released on Fantasy, the label Brubeck founded, as Jazz at Oberlin) displays Desmond at his most swinging and is probably the best of all Brubeck's records. 'There you hear Paul where I wanted him,' Brubeck says. It was the entry of the drummer Morello into the group that helped lead to the experiments of Time Out.

According to Brubeck: 'Joe made us evolve into complex time signatures because Paul liked the rhythm section never to intrude. He would have preferred to play ballads all the time if he could, but Joe and I knew that Desmond had the most fantastic rhythmic sense that he didn't want to use.'

Brubeck is often perceived as someone who came to jazz from a background in classical music but this, he says, is a misunderstanding. Though born into an intensely musical Californian family - his mother, a piano teacher, had studied in London with Myra Hess - Brubeck always gravitated towards jazz. 'My classical experience was so minimal that I'd call it nothing. Through jazz I listened to classical composers but I never played the classical repertoire.' After service in the Second World War, he studied composition with Darius Milhaud at Mills College. Milhaud - who thought jazz was the authentic American music - encouraged Brubeck to do whatever he wished. A brief encounter with Arnold Schoenberg, by contrast, disillusioned Brubeck with the contemporary classical world. 'It had to be absolutely his way, while with Milhaud you were absolutely free.'

The preoccupation with complex time signatures began very early; 'I have always thought in terms of poly-rhythms and poly-tonality.' Rather than seeking to take jazz closer to the classical tradition, Brubeck insists that he was trying to recapture some of its African heritage. 'After giving complete credit to African-Americans for jazz, many musicians now feel that the New Orleans tradition was very much a mixture of Africa and Europe. There's a strong European tradition in jazz; 'Tiger Rag' is a Belgian march with a syncopated beat and you'll find the form of the march in many early rags and street music.'

Brubeck's experiments developed further when a record dealer played him a copy of Denis Roosevelt's field recordings from the Belgian Congo. 'I realised how far we were from this music, that the jazz tradition was so European and not at all as African as we had thought. I wondered what the music in Congo Square (where New Orleans freed slaves were allowed to play their drums) must have sounded like.' Brubeck felt vindicated when, at the School of Jazz in Lenox, Massachusetts in 1960, Dr Willis James, a black anthropologist, stood up and sang an African worksong in 5/4.

Though critics have sometimes carped (an extraordinary 1959 essay by Raymond Horrocks blames the pianist for not being poor, black and Charlie Parker, among other things), Brubeck feels that leading jazz musicians have always respected him. Indeed, Cecil Taylor - at the avant-garde end of the modernist line as far as jazz piano goes - used to sit by Brubeck's left hand night after night when the pianist played Birdland in New York in the 1950s. 'Generally, the guys who were on the cutting edge liked me,' says Brubeck, 'Mingus, Parker, Kenton, Benny Carter, Miles Davis, Ellington, were always very favourable. Miles and Charlie Parker would come to Birdland and Miles would come to see me at the Black Hawk in San Francisco. Cecil said I filled in a gap, but he didn't say between what and what.'

Brubeck's current quartet is a hot one, featuring the brilliant clarinet player Bill Smith (who, like Desmond, was a member of Brubeck's octet in 1948). His latest quartet album, When I Was Very Young (PolyGram), is also impressive. Though since 'Take Five' Brubeck has busied himself with some rather portentous compositions, including oratorios, masses, cantatas and ballet music, and has performed for Presidents and Popes, as a small group leader he remains a genuine star. He's also an authentic jazzman, in touch with the tradition in a way few other performers are these days. 'Serious music is feeding from jazz now,' he says. 'The classical people see the communication that exists in great jazz groups as something that they want to get hold of for themselves.'

The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Manchester, Free Trade Hall tonight; Edinburgh, Usher Hall, 14 Oct; Glasgow, City Hall, 15 Oct and London, Festival Hall, 19 Oct

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears