The pianist in me wants to be amongst the greatest jazz pianists. Peterson, Baisie, Carmichael, Corea, Dearie, Ellington, Gershwin, Hines, Henderson, Jobim, Ibrahim, Legrand, Monk, Mingus, Strayhorn, Tatum, Toussaint, Waller- these are just the ones who have albums sitting in my Sunday morning jazz playing queue. But I always save a special place every Sunday for this album, my favourite jazz album, by the much maligned but grossly underrated Dave Brubeck. This is one of the single best-selling jazz records of all time. This fact means that Brubeck is considered a traitor to the cause. Jazz isn’t supposed to sell to mass audiences.
The snobbishness of jazz aficionados means devoted jazz fans like myself perhaps do not talk about our love of the genre as much as we should. I like the populist jazz classics like Time Out because of the accessibility. But to dismiss this album as simple and unworthy of serious consideration is plain wrong. The album was always a bold experiment in time signatures. But it has always been shunned in jazz circles. Critically lambasted upon its release, as jazz purists despise anyone messing with the set in stone rhythms of the genre, it remains the best album to introduce jazz skeptics to the genre. It’s precisely because the innovation makes the album listenable, and friendly to the average person.
Yes, its seems to be a contradiction, that one of the most controversial and out of the box records of a difficult to promote genre is one the gateways to fandom. But a lot of it is simply because that the songs had to be so good. Fortunately, Brubeck is one of the greatest American pianists to spring out of California, and he was matched by Paul Desmond, his great altoist. It’s Desmond who wrote the huge jazz hit, “Take Five”, a masterpiece of a song if ever one existed. Yes, it is one of the most recognisable songs in all of music, part of the upscale new world sophisticate’s collection of music. But it really is just that good. Based around the roping solo of Desmond, with its steady snare and cymbals, and of course the equally memorable piano base that allows Desmond to just spin magic, it is simply the pinnacle of mid-century jazz brilliance. It was as good as anything Mingus, Coleman, or Davis did in 1959. Maybe even better.
The other clear-cut slice of musical genius is “Blue Rondo A la Turk”, which incorporate Turkish zeybek rhythms in a complex 9/8 structure that somehow swings as much as classic 4/4, the signature he reverts to part way through to kind of make his point about the staid rules of jazz rhythms. The brilliance of drummer Joe Morello is clear on this track, as he is able to keep the beat and make it jump. A phenomenal song, a rich tapestry of varied beats, creating one of the most unusual and beloved standards of the last half century.
There is the alternating 3/4 and 4/4 times of the sweet “Three to Get Ready”, the twin 6/4 barrels of “Pick Up Sticks” and “Everybody’s Jumpin'” where the former is steady and the latter bends and breaks, and the more standard 4/4 of “Strange Meadow Lark” and “Kathy’s Waltz”, the latter eventually falling into double waltz time after the standard swing into. The assurance of the band and the confidence of the music is clearly defined. There is no hesitation, no waffling. The album is fearless in the face of opposition from both the record label and the jazz community. Brubeck knew what he was doing. He was going to shake up the jazz world come hell or high water. Miles Davis gets all the credit for making jazz what it is today, and Brubeck? Well, he still remains my hero, and he still is one of the best known jazz names in the world. With a record like this, he deserves to be listed among the greats.
Brubeck, Peterson, Ellington, Strayhorn…
BTW, Paul McCartney totally ripped off “Kathy’s Waltz” for “All My Loving”. Bastard.