Watch an Incredible Performance of “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet (1964)

In 1959, pianist and composer Dave Brubeck “made one of the coolest and best-selling jazz albums of all time,” writes Matt Schudel at The Washington Post. He did so at a time when dozens of other jazz musicians were releasing career-defining records that also changed jazz, almost overnight. Brubeck’s Time Out eventually became a “certified pop hit,” largely thanks to “the infectious quality of its classic instrumental hit, ‘Take Five.’”

It is indeed rare for a song to become both a jazz standard and an instrumental so popular that it’s covered by dozens of artists in dozens of popular genres over six decades, including some reverent ska and dub reggae tributes. “It has certainly shown up in some unjazzy settings over the years,” writes Ted Gioia in The Jazz Standard: A Guide to the Repertoire. The song has been “rapped over and sampled, played by marching bands and sung by choirs… I am sure I will hear it on a cell phone ringtone someday soon.”

The original tune, composed not by Brubeck but longtime saxophonist Paul Desmond, was adapted into more popular forms almost as soon as it came out. In 1961, Brubeck and his wife Iola penned lyrics for a version recorded by Carmen McRae. Al Jarreau adapted this version for a 1977 recording on his Grammy-winning album Look to the Rainbow, which “introduced a new generation of fans to this song. “

Over time “Take Five” may have “lost much of its capacity to surprise," but "it can still delight.” That is no more so the case when we hear as it was originally played by the Dave Brubeck quartet itself, formed in 1951 by Brubeck and Desmond, who first met in Northern California in 1944. After cycling through several rhythm players throughout the early fifties, they found drummer Joe Morello in 1956, then two years later, bassist Eugene Wright, who first joined them for a U.S. State Department tour of Europe and Asia.

While traveling to ostensibly promote U.S. good will, Brubeck and his bandmates also picked up the Eurasian folk music that inspired “Take Five,” with its 5/4 time (which in turn inspired the name). No matter how many times you’ve heard Desmond’s Eastern-inspired melodies over Brubeck’s two-chord blues vamp and Morello’s relentless fills, you can always hear it afresh when the classic quartet plays the song live. Above, see them in one of their absolute greatest performances, a rollicking, dynamic attack in Belgium in 1964 that serves as all the argument one needs for “Take Five”’s greatness.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Revisit the Infamous Rolling Stones Free Festival at Altamont: The Ill-Fated Concert Took Place 50 Years Ago

The Tate-LaBianca murders and the violence at Altamont in 1969 have become emblems of the end of “the notion of spontaneity,” writes Richard Brody at The New Yorker, “the sense that things could happen on their own and that benevolent spirts would prevail. What ended was the idea of the unproduced.” Perhaps it's important to keep in mind that this was only ever an idea, nurtured by those with the means and talent to produce it, and to overshadow, for a time, figures like Manson, a Laurel Canyon hanger-on before he became a cult-leading, spree-killing mastermind.

Likewise, the Hells Angels had been present at the birth of the counterculture. As anyone who’s read Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test knows, they were regular attendees of Ken Kesey’s Acid Test parties and early Grateful Dead shows, at the same time as the release of the famous 1965 Lynch report, a six-month study detailing the criminal activities of motorcycle gangs in California. Two years later, Hunter S. Thompson’s Hells Angels book would both corroborate and downplay the report's shocking revelations.

It was evident to people paying attention that the supply chain moving drugs through the scene was a particularly nasty business, a shadow side of hippie culture as menacing as Manson’s power tripping race war delusions. Leave it to the Rolling Stones to move this background to the foreground when they hired the Hells Angels to do security at Altamont on December 6, 1969, paying them in beer. The drunken bikers responded to unrest in the crowd by beating fans with weighted pool cues and motorcycle chains before stabbing 18-year-old black fan Meredith Hunter to death, as the band, unaware, played “Under My Thumb.”

All of this now plays out before us close up in footage from the Maysles brothers’ iconic documentary, Gimme Shelter, with a view almost no one among the 300,000 fans present that day could claim. “Many people who attended Altamont thought it was a great day and a great concert,” says Joel Selvin, author of Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day. No one at the back of the crowd noticed the fights in front of the stage, such as those that breaking out between fans and bikers during "Sympathy for the Devil," above.

George Lucas happened to be there, working with Robert Elfstrom on the Maysles crew. The two were sent “to the top of this hill and they spent all day futzing with this long lens,” says Selvin, “trying to keep it in focus. When it was all over, they were both convinced they had been to Woodstock.” Indeed, “Woodstock of the West” is how Altamont was characterized until Rolling Stone published its in-depth coverage of events. How then did Altamont become known thereafter as the “anti-Woodstock” that broke the sixties?

Woodstock itself “was very close to being a total disaster,” Selvin points out, a point Jerry Garcia himself makes in post-Altamont interview above. They were "two sides of the same coin, two ways that that kind of expression can go." The stigma surrounding the Hells Angels greatly contributed the infamy, as news of their full involvement spread. Had accused killer Alan Passaro not been in a notoriously violent biker gang, Selvin believes, he would have been seen as a hero, since Hunter had rushed the stage with a gun after an earlier altercation with the gang. (Passaro was not charged.)

But perhaps no artifact has helped mythologize the tragic events at Altamont more than Gimme Shelter, a film that also documents just how electrifying the Stones were onstage, how transformed as a band after the death of Brian Jones months earlier and addition of guitarist Mick Taylor.

They debuted “Brown Sugar” at Altamont (hear it above), a song that wouldn’t be released until three years later on Sticky Fingers and that would define their take on roadhouse blues in the early seventies. At least in performance, they held up remarkably well in a festival that bristled with restless, overcrowded menace even before the bikers started a riot. (A fan punched Mick Jagger as he got out of his helicopter.)

As we reflect on the 50th anniversary of Altamont, we might also rethink its immortalization as a symbol of the death of sixties' innocence. Something else died instead, writes Brody. “The haunting freeze-frame on Jagger staring into the camera, at the end of the film, after his forensic examination of the footage of the killing of Meredith Hunter at the concert, reveals not the filmmakers’ accusation or his own sense of guilt but lost illusions" of control over the culture's darker side.

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Hear the First Live Performance of the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar:” Recorded at the Fateful Altamont Free Concert in 1969

Gimme Shelter: Watch the Classic Documentary of the Rolling Stones’ Disastrous Concert at Altamont

Watch the Rolling Stones Write “Sympathy for the Devil”: From Jean-Luc Godard’s ’68 Film One Plus One

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How a Bach Canon Works. Brilliant.

Brilliant. This moving manuscript depicts a single musical sequence played front to back and then back to front. Give the video a little time to unfold and enjoy.

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Music Is Truly a Universal Language: New Research Shows That Music Worldwide Has Important Commonalities

Photo by Jo Dusepo, via Wikimedia Commons

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s description of music as a universal language has become a well-worn cliché, usually uttered in a sentimental and not particularly serious way. Maybe this is why it doesn't inspire a corresponding breadth of appreciation for the music of the world. We are conditioned and acculturated, it can seem, by formative experience to gravitate toward certain kinds of music. We can expand our tastes but that usually requires some careful study and acculturation.

In the sciences, the “universal language” hypothesis in music has been taken far more seriously, and, more recently, so has its critique. “In ethnomusicology,” notes the Universitat Wien’s Medienportal, “universality became something of a dirty word.” The diversity of world music is profound, as Kevin Dickinson writes at Big Think.

Katajjaq, or Inuit throat singing, expresses playfulness in strong, throaty expressions. Japan's nogaku punctuates haunting bamboo flutes with the stiff punctuation of percussion. South of Japan, the Australian Aborigines also used winds and percussions, yet their didgeridoos and clapsticks birthed a distinct sound. And the staid echoes of medieval Gregorian chant could hardly be confused for a rousing track of thrash metal.

The idea that all of these kinds of music and thousands more are all the same in some way strikes many as “groundless or even offensive.” But even hardcore skeptics might be persuaded by papers published just last month in Science.

University of Vienna Cognitive Biologists W. Tecumseh Fitch and Tudor Popescu begin their article “The World in a Song” with a brief sketch of the history of “the empirical quest for musical universals.” The search began in Berlin in 1900, almost as soon as phonographs could be used to record music. The Nazis stamped out this research in Germany in the 1930s, though it flourished in the U.S.—in the work of Alan Lomax, for example. Yet “by the 1970s ethnomusicologists were discouraged from even discussing musical ‘universals.'"

Nonetheless, as a team of researchers led by Harvard’s Samuel Mehr show in their paper “Universality and Diversity in Human Song,” there are indeed universal musical qualities, though they manifest in some specific ways. Using the “tools of computational social science” to analyze a huge archive of audio recordings of world music, the researchers found that “identifiable acoustic features of songs (accent, tempo, pitch range, etc.) predict their primary behavioral context (love, healing, etc.)." Societies around the world use similar musical properties to accompany similar emotional contexts, in other words.

Moreover, the meta-analysis found that “melodic and rhythmic bigrams fall into power-law distributions” and “tonality is widespread, perhaps universal.” Focusing primarily on vocal song, since instrumentation varied too widely, the scientists tested “five sets of hypotheses about universality and variability in musical behavior and musical forms.” All of these analyses make use of ethnographic data. Critics might point out that such data is riddled with bias.

Ethnographers, from the purely academic to popular curators like Lomax, applied their own filters, choosing what to record and what to ignore based on their own assumptions about what matters in music. Nonetheless, Mehr and his co-authors write that they have adjusted for “sampling error and ethnographer bias, problems that have bedeviled prior tests." Their methodology is rigorous, and their conclusions are backed by some dense analytics.

It would indeed seem from their exhaustive research that, in many respects, music is genuinely universal. The findings should not surprise us. Humans, after all, are biologically similar across the globe, with generally the same propensities for language learning and all the other things that humans universally do. Many previous comparative projects in history have used generalizations to create racial hierarchies and attempt to show the superiority of one culture or another. “Universality is a big word,” said Leonard Bernstein, “and a dangerous one”—a word beloved by empires throughout time.

But the data-driven approach used by the most recent studies adheres more closely to the science. Wide variation is a given, and several indicators show great “variability across cultures” when it comes to music, as the introduction to “Universality and Diversity in Human Song” acknowledges. Nonetheless, forms of music appear in every human society, accompanying ceremonies, rituals, and rites. Echoing the conclusions of modern genetics, the authors point out that “there is more variation in musical behavior within societies than between societies.” Read Mehr and his team’s study here.

via Big Think

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Punk Dulcimer: The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” Played on the Dulcimer

Sam Edelston can rock the duclimer. On his YouTube channel, he writes: "Dulcimers are natural rock instruments. In fact, I even say that dulcimers are among the world's coolest musical instruments, and they deserve to be known by the general public - the way that everybody knows guitars and ukuleles. Though usually associated with old folk songs and tunes, dulcimers are great for a shocking variety of modern music, too. I do these videos to inspire more people to play and listen to dulcimer music, in diverse, non-traditional styles." Above, watch him cover the Ramones' 1978 classic "I Wanna Be Sedated." Find more covers of  Zeppelin, the Stones & Beatles here. And yet more covers--including Bowie's "Space Oddity" and Sabbath's "War Pigs"--on the Contemporary Dulcimer YouTube Channel. Enjoy.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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via Laughing Squid

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Depeche Mode Before They Were Actually Depeche Mode: Stream Their Early Demo Recordings from 1980

After their 1986 album Black Celebration, new wave legends Depeche Mode fully committed to being the most gloriously gloomy band next to The Cure to appear on stadium stages. Earnest pleas for tolerance like “People are People” and playfully suggestive vamps like “Master and Servant” gave way to atmospheric dirge-y washes and funereal tempos made for moping, not dancing. The move defined them after their early breakout with an image as a kind of New Romantic boy band.

The Depeche Mode of the early 80s was always edgier than most of their peers, even if they looked clean cut and cherubic. They were also more experimental, drawing from Kraftwerk’s deadpan German disco in their minimalist first single “Dreaming of Me” and making industrial pop in Construction Time Again’s “Everything Counts.” Theirs is a body of work, for better or worse, that launched a hundred darkwave bands decades on, and their very first incarnation may remind indie fans of other lo-fi indie pop artists of recent years.

Before they were Depeche Mode, they were a minimalist post-punk/new wave band called Composition of Sound. They recorded two demo tapes under the name, “one with Vince Clarke on vocals and guitar,” notes, “Andy Fletcher on bass and Martin L. Gore on synthesizers, and one [above] just after the arrival of Dave Gahan in the band, shortly before they were renamed.” These tapes, from 1980, are the first recorded manifestation of the Depeche Mode lineup.

Clarke and Fletcher began playing together in the 1977 Cure-influenced band No Romance in China. They formed Composition of Sound with Gore, who'd played guitar in an acoustic duo, in 1980 and recruited Gahan that same year whey they heard him sing Bowie’s “’Heroes’” at a jam session. By that time, they’d mostly given up on guitars, after Clarke—who left Depeche Mode after Speak & Spell to form the hugely influential synthpop band Yazoo (or Yaz in the U.S.)—encountered Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark. The three-song demo at the top represents that evolutionary step in action.

The first track, “Ice Machine,” was released as the b-side of “Dreaming of Me,” Depeche Mode’s first artistic statement of intent on their longtime label Mute. Fletcher plays bass guitar on this and the other two tracks, “Radio News” and “Photographic,” but the songs are otherwise rudimentary ancestors of Depeche Mode’s synth-dominated sound, which would persist until they brought guitars back into the foreground in the 90s.

It appears they did play a “handful of gigs” in the transitional phase of Composition of Sound, as Martin Schneider writes at Dangerous Minds: “The first COS show with Dave Gahan on vocals happened on June 14, 1980 at Nicholas Comprehensive in Basildon." The gig went well, according to Clarke, “because Gahan ‘had all his trendy mates there.’” Their last show in this incarnation “sounds like something out of This is Spinal Tap." 

They played at a youth club at Woodlands School in their hometown of Basildon. “Their audience consisted of a bunch of nine-year-olds. ‘They loved the synths, which were a novelty then,’ remembers Fletcher. ‘The kids were onstage twiddling the knobs while we played!”  One wonders if any of those kids went on to start their own fashionably minimalist synthpop bands….

via Dangerous Minds/Post-Punk

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Illustrated Version of “Alice’s Restaurant”: Watch Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Counterculture Classic

Alice’s Restaurant. It’s now a Thanksgiving classic, and something of a tradition around here. Recorded in 1967, the 18+ minute counterculture song recounts Arlo Guthrie’s real encounter with the law, starting on Thanksgiving Day 1965. As the long song unfolds, we hear all about how a hippie-bating police officer, by the name of William "Obie" Obanhein, arrested Arlo for littering. (Cultural footnote: Obie previously posed for several Norman Rockwell paintings, including the well-known painting, "The Runaway," that graced a 1958 cover of The Saturday Evening Post.) In fairly short order, Arlo pleads guilty to a misdemeanor charge, pays a $25 fine, and cleans up the thrash. But the story isn't over. Not by a long shot. Later, when Arlo (son of Woody Guthrie) gets called up for the draft, the petty crime ironically becomes a basis for disqualifying him from military service in the Vietnam War. Guthrie recounts this with some bitterness as the song builds into a satirical protest against the war: "I'm sittin' here on the Group W bench 'cause you want to know if I'm moral enough to join the Army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug." And then we're back to the cheery chorus again: "You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant."

We have featured Guthrie’s classic during past years. But, for this Thanksgiving, we give you the illustrated version. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who plans to celebrate the holiday today.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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