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May 4 – Star Wars vs Brubeck

Updated: May 7

For my 64th birthday my piano students and friends (after I posted this video) sent me recordings of When I’m 64 by Lennon and McCartney. I loved it! Another gift, from my husband, was the new Brubeck book by Philip Clark called A Life in Time.

Although I LOVE Take Five (listening to it AND playing it), I wasn’t in love with the book when I started to read it. I felt it was pedantic until I realized this wasn’t your usual story about a famous musician. This was like being at all the rehearsals and being the proverbial fly-on-the-wall. He goes into great detail and, when I slowed down and savoured the details, I began to get sucked into the Brubeck story.

I’ve known May 4th as Star Wars Day. You know, “May the fourth be with you”. I only recently learned that it is unofficially Dave Brubeck Day. Brubeck is famously known for the album Time Out featuring, among many great tunes, TAKE FIVE. Take Five is in 5/4 time (May 4th – 05/04 – Dave Brubeck Day 😊) Click on TAKE FIVE to watch a great 1964 video recording of the Brubeck Quartet (should they have had a fifth person and made it a quintet?)

Philip Clark’s book has several fascinating pages outlining the details around composing Take Five. It is well known Dave Brubeck did NOT write Take Five. His

smooth-as-golden-silk saxophone player, Paul Desmond, has that honour. But NO ONE COULD PLAY Desmond’s original Take Five! Not Desmond, not Joe Morello, not even Dave. It helps to know, Desmond fashioned Take Five after a warm-up their drummer, Joe Morrello, used to do before the shows. Apparently it was complex and when they tried to tie it into Desmond’s Take Five melody, well, read a few quotes from the book…

As Brubeck counted off take after take – 1! 2! 3! 4! 5! – the quartet wobbled rhythmically and Desmond kept tripping over the melodic furniture. Each attempt felt doomed to certain failure.

Brubeck, as leader, saw it as his role to reassure and calm. “This is all rehearsal,” he reasoned. “You’re goddamn right it is!” Morello shot back.

Miserable because he was frustrated and frustrated because he was miserable, Morello suffered something of a breakdown behind his kit. “Oh man, I just forgot my beat,” he sobbed after a further stumble, and Brubeck, again, comforted him: “It’s very hard – we got all day.”

After many attempts at recording it, which Clark goes into delightful detail, Brubeck created the famous vamp: Oom – Chuck – ka – chuck, Boom – Boom. The power of vamps are well known. Playing a vamp and grooving on it before starting a piece can make a crowd go wild. With Take Five, Brubeck created a vamp for the bass first and then filled in on piano with his steady E flat minor – B flat minor 7th. The rest is music history.

I think that the force was with Brubeck that day and Take Five has earned its rightful spot as the biggest selling jazz single of all time.

I think I’ll highlight Take Five at the All Access Jam with my online jamming group in the near future. Won’t you join us?

Happy Dave Brubeck Day!

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