How Dave Brubeck’s Time Out Changed Jazz Music

Music video essay mae­stro Poly­phon­ic is back. What I dig about his videos is that he takes on some of the true warhors­es of mod­ern pop­u­lar music and man­ages to find some­thing new to say. Or at least he presents famil­iar sto­ries in a new and mod­ern way to an audi­ence who may be hear­ing ELO, Queen, or Neil Young for the first time.

His lat­est upload explores Dave Brubeck’s ground­break­ing jazz album Time Out. This is an album that reg­u­lar­ly tops best-of lists, gets reis­sued con­stant­ly, and is so ubiq­ui­tous in some cir­cles that it’s hard, like Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, to hear the album with fresh ears.

Poly­phon­ic touch­es on some­thing right at the begin­ning of the video that deserves a full video essay of its own–the State Department’s mis­sion to send Amer­i­can jazz musi­cians around the world as cul­tur­al ambas­sadors. This is a part of his­to­ry that has reced­ed from mem­o­ry, but had a major influ­ence not just on Brubeck, but so many records at that time. Brubeck joined Ben­ny Good­man, Louis Arm­strong, and Dizzy Gille­spie on a musi­cal tour that reached many coun­tries behind the Iron Cur­tain, and were able to cri­tique America’s racist his­to­ry while also pro­mot­ing its musi­cal cul­ture. (There’s a fine PBS doc­u­men­tary on the mis­sion avail­able here, if your region sup­ports the video.)

But for the pur­pos­es of this video essay, and regard­ing Brubeck’s career, it was the polyrhythms and folk music that he heard while trav­el­ing through coun­tries like Turkey (from which he devel­oped “Blue Ron­do a la Turk”) that remained with him on his return.

Time Out was Brubeck’s four­teenth album for Colum­bia Records, but his break­through. Up to that point he and his quar­tet had released a num­ber of live albums record­ed at col­leges (which pro­mot­ed a safe but hip stu­dious kind of jazz) and sev­er­al albums of jazz cov­ers, such as Dave Digs Dis­ney. But Time Out was a ful­ly formed con­cept album of sorts: an explo­ration into time sig­na­tures that jazz hadn’t real­ly touched yet.

As Poly­phon­ic points out, Joe Morel­lo, Brubeck’s drum­mer, was indeed well versed in com­pli­cat­ed time sig­na­tures from his clas­si­cal back­ground as a vio­lin­ist. It was Morel­lo who exper­i­ment­ed with a groove in 5/4 time that became the back­bone of “Take Five.” Brubeck knew a good thing when he heard it and gives Morel­lo one of the best solos of the entire LP.

Best of all, Time Out is one those clas­sic albums because of how it mix­es the exper­i­men­tal with the com­mer­cial, a hard feat in any era, but even more impres­sive in that best of all jazz years, 1959. (Brubeck con­tin­ued to explore time sig­na­tures on this album’s sequel Time Fur­ther Out, which is also rec­om­mend­ed).

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pak­istani Musi­cians Play an Enchant­i­ng Ver­sion of Dave Brubeck’s Jazz Clas­sic, “Take Five”

Louis Arm­strong Plays His­toric Cold War Con­certs in East Berlin & Budapest (1965)

Remem­ber­ing Jazz Leg­end Dave Brubeck (RIP) with a Very Touch­ing Musi­cal Moment

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (5)
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  • Darius Brubeck says:

    I’d rec­om­mend this to any­body who is curi­ous about the his­to­ry behind Take Five and the whole con­cept of Time Out. Of course there’s more to the sto­ry but I want to give this a big thumbs up for good nar­ra­tion, hip graph­ics and ani­ma­tion as well as the all-impor­tant musi­cal analy­sis which any­one can under­stand. That’s almost as mag­i­cal as mak­ing an exper­i­men­tal album that became a hit.

  • Scott Swimmer says:

    Com­plete­ly agree Dar­ius. It’s very well done; enjoy­able and infor­ma­tive. Sheds a lot of light — just like your Dad did.

  • Ralph Regina says:

    My first Dave Brubeck album was not the acclaimed Time Out but his sec­ond album after that clas­sic LP –“Count­down ‑Time in Out­er Space” which had Castil­ian Drums open­ing up side 2 of the album which then pre­cip­i­tat­ed into one of the great­est drum solos on record when Joe Morel­lo per­formed that com­po­si­tion on the “Brubeck at Carnegie Hall” set.

  • Dave says:

    Take Five is a clas­sic and is a time­less piece of work. This is a incred­i­ble arti­cle that sheds light on not only the album but also the impact to soci­ety. Here is a great arti­cle that also sheds light Mr. Brubecks leg­endary work.

  • Tony Cain says:

    Dav­e’s use of chords was at least part­ly because of a div­ing acci­dent that severe­ly injured his neck and the nerves that con­trol the hands. Because it was dif­fi­cult for him to play indi­vid­ual notes prop­er­ly, espe­cial­ly with his left hand, he trans­formed a lia­bil­i­ty into an asset by play­ing chords.

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