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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Dave Brubeck’s Time Out Changed Jazz Music

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

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

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

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  • Savva says:

    I might be wrong, but I’ve heaRd that the ini­tial idea came from a beat played by Morel­lo, over­layed then with a vamp by Brubeck; Desmomd’s inge­nious melody was played over that as a last piece of the puz­zle (and that makes sense, for the whole thing is pret­ty much rhythm-inspired). Or not?..

  • Mark Wynn says:

    Busi­ness suits, ties, busi­ness hair­cuts, black rimmed glass­es …expres­sion­less, look like accoun­tants, the only give­away a close­up of an ener­getic left shoe, and Morel­lo’s face mor­ph­ing into a mad­man when he real­ly gets into his solo. Amaz­ing .…

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