When Dave, Paul Desmond, Gene Wright and Joe Morello returned to the U.S., they began rehearsing the material for Time Out, now one of jazz's best-known and biggest-selling albums. The only track not credited to Dave was Take Five, the tune with the hypnotic rhythm and 5/4 time signature. Paul Desmond is listed as the sole writer. And yet the song seems to have Dave's fingerprints all over it, from its churning tempo to its percussive feel.
In Part 4 of my interview with Dave, the piano legend talks about the State Department tour of 1958, why The Real Ambassadors with Louis Armstrong and others wasn't performed on Broadway, and Dave's dominant role in the development of Take Five:
JazzWax: Did the State Department tour of 1958 have an impact on the Dave Brubeck Quartet?
Dave Brubeck: Oh, sure. It exposed us to wonderful things. We toured for about 120 days, without much of a break. On this trip, we had a worldwide audience. That was very exciting back then. We went to Poland and performed 12 concerts. From there, we went to Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Ceylon—which now is Sri Lanka—Iran and Iraq. Right after we left Iraq, there was a regime change. The army tried to rescue the people from the hotel where we had been staying. But after they took everyone out, the trucks got stuck. Everyone was shot and killed. We were lucky to have left when we did.
JW: Blue Rondo a la Turk from Time Out has an intoxicating pattern.
DB: I think it's equally as important as Take Five. But Columbia wanted to push Take Five. Blue Rondo is based on a street rhythm I heard while we were in Turkey. It's in 9/8 time, with the blues section in 4/4. People loved that song and still do.
JW: Why do you think Columbia wanted to push Take Five over Blue Rondo?
DB: Take Five is a title you could put on a jukebox and remember more easily in a record store. Blue Rondo a la Turk was too long a song title. In those days the jukebox determined what became a hit. I should have called it just Blue Rondo. Blue Rondo a la Turk wound up on the B-side of the single.
JW: What became of The Real Ambassadors, which was recorded in 1961 and performed in 1962?
DB: We performed it only once publicly at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1962. Annie Ross was in England at the time, and Yolande Bavan took Annie’s place with Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks. Yolande and I first met in Ceylon when she was still there. She did a terrific job in that performance.
JW: How was the performance? There only are photos of it, no recordings or film.
DB: Fantastic. All the jazz musicians who were playing at the festival came to hear us. Louis Armstrong was in the show, of course. So was Carmen McRae. Everyone was so moved by Louis’ performance. Louis was making a political statement through our words. He had tears in his eyes as he sang.
DB: The lyrics expressed what Louis felt in his heart. After his State Department tour in 1960, it was clear that he was America's real ambassador to the world. He was the person most identified with America worldwide. The words written by Iola, my wife, and sung by Louis said there should be no black or white distinctions, that people should be measured as individuals.
JW: How did Louis singing They Say I Look Like God go over?
DB: Incredible. On stage, Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan were wearing sackcloths and hoods. When they sang from the Bible, “God created man in his image and likeness,” they brought their hoods up over their heads. When they weren’t singing from the Bible, they put their hoods down. It was reverential and worked beautifully.
JW: What was the emotional high point in the show?
DB: I think that came in They Say I Look Like God, when Louis sang his opening statement, “They say I look like God. Could God be black? My God. If I were made in the image of thee, could thou perchance a zebra be? Can it be?” We thought he’d deliver that line and get a laugh. But instead, the audience was quiet and he had tears in his eyes, especially when he sang, “An act of God to set man free.”
JW: Was the performance recorded?
DB: We could have had it filmed the night we performed it at Monterey. A camera crew asked me if they could shoot it. I said, “That would be great.” They said it would cost me $750. I said I didn’t have that kind of money for the film. In retrospect, boy, what a terrible goof that was.
JW: Why wasn’t The Real Ambassadors performed ever again?
DB: We were going to do it on Broadway, but Joe Glaser was Louis’ manager and my manager. Joe didn’t want two of his main moneymakers tied up night after night plus two matinees weekly on the same stage. That’s eight performances a week.
JW: Did you try to get Glaser to pay for the film?
DB: I did. I called Glaser but he wouldn’t sponsor or produce it. He was against The Real Ambassadors. When I was trying to bring it to Broadway, I went to top producers. They liked it but they passed. They said, “You’re lecturing, you’re not entertaining.” Two or three of them turned it down for the same reason. [Photo of Joe Glaser and Louis Armstrong in 1965 for Life by John Loengard]
JW: How could Take Five possibly have been so popular with so many people?
DB: [Laughs] Why?
JW: The tempo is tough, it has a classical feel and what was considered popular back in 1959 was quite different from the music recorded.
DB: The secret is the drumbeat, which was Joe Morello’s. You can't sit still when you hear it.
JW: Did Joe initiate the song's thematic concept?
DB: When I first heard Joe play that beat backstage and Paul improvised against it, I said to Paul at our rehearsal for Time Out, “Try to write down some of your improvisations.”
JW: What happened?
DB: When he came back to the rehearsal, he said, “I can’t write anything in 5/4.” I said, “Well, I just heard you improvising on it and you sounded great.” Paul said, “I wrote down some of those things.” I said, “Great, let me see what you have.”
JW: What did you think?
DB: I looked at what Paul had done and said, “Paul, I can put this together, and it will be a great tune.” We gave it a try, and the approach worked.
JW: Wow, you really should have received co-credit on Take Five.
DB: More than that. The title is mine and so were the lyrics: “Won't you stop and take a little time out with me, just take five. Stop your busy day and take the time out, to see, I'm alive."
JW: When did you write the lyrics?
DB: Right away. Teo Macero [pictured], the album’s producer, said there had to be a cover of the song with words to it. That was Columbia's way of covering its bases with the tricky 5/4 time, to have a vocal version. When I told that to Paul, he said he wanted his father to write them. But they didn’t come in as soon as we needed them. Teo wanted words so Carmen McRae could sing the cover almost immediately.
JW: How soon after the recording session did you finish writing the lyrics?
DB: Probably a month or two after. Some lyricist told me later I had written some clever things that didn't quite come across in some of the vocal versions.
JW: Which line, specifically?
DB: The second stanza where the melody changes to a major key: "Though I'm going out of my way, just so I can pass by each day; not a single word do we say, it's a pantomime and not a play." Most singers miss the nuance. “It’s a pantomime and not a play.” There’s a double meaning there—a play can mean a spoken performance or it can mean a romantic pitch. A lyricist told me that was one of the cleverest lines ever written [laughs].
JW: And yet Columbia held up the single of Take Five until 1961.
DB: They said no one would be able to dance to it.
JW: Did you buy that?
DB: No. I’ve seen people of all ages dance to that song.
JW: Do you think Columbia held it up to avoid having it steal thunder from other jazz recordings it was marketing, like Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, which was released at about the same time and also had a different sound?
DB: I’ll never know.
JW: So the beat on Time Out was Joe Morello’s?
DB: Yes. Joe warned me, “Dave, you’re going to have to keep that rhythm going when I take a drum solo” [laughs]. Paul and I framed it to feature Joe on drums. If you listen to the original recording, you can hear that the song was built around Joe's drum solo. At any rate, Paul took credit for writing the song.
JW: And yet the song has your sensibility and approach.
DB: I wish more people realized that.
JW: Desmond never said, “Let's split the writing credit?”
DB: It’s hard for me to remember. He thought it was his tune. I said, “All of the tunes are being copyrighted by my company. It will be confusing if you copyright it separately.” He wasn’t crazy about doing it my way but he agreed just the same, adding, “But it’s going to be my tune.”
JW: You must have felt that it was a little unfair.
DB: That’s the way it goes.
JW: And yet you two remained good friends.
DB: Oh, of course.
JazzWax tracks: Sony last year released a 50th anniversary edition of Time Out with a second disc of previously unreleased tracks from three different Newport Jazz Festivals plus a DVD interview with Dave on the making of the album. You'll find it here.
Dave recorded dozens of excellent studio and live albums after Time Out. Among my favorites on Columbia from the early 1960s are Angel Eyes (1962), Jazz Impressions of Japan (1964), Jazz Impressions of New York (1964) and Anything Goes (1965).
But perhaps my favorite of all from this period is Brubeck a La Mode. This little-known album was recorded for Fantasy Records in 1960 and featured octet-mate Bill Smith on clarinet instead of Desmond as the fourth player. There's a feel here that takes Dave back to the days when he and Smith were studying with Darius Milhaud. It's a must-own. You'll find it at iTunes and here.
JazzWax note: The uncropped image of Herb Snitzer's photo of Dave Brubeck used at the top of this post is available as a fine-art print. More information at Herb's site here or contact him at [email protected]
JazzWax clip: Go here for Carmen McRae's vocal version of Take Five. If you think 5/4 sounds tough to play, dig how tricky it is to sing—and how easy McRae makes it sound.
To hear the fraternal bond between Dave and Desmond, dig this clip of Alice in Wonderland from Brubeck/Desmond Duets (1975)...