Sunday, December 9, 2012

Passing Notes in Class


Jazz legend Dave Brubeck died a few days ago at the age of 91. He's best know for an piece called "Take Five". Best known to me, anyway, since I'm rather ignorant about jazz. At least the jazz that emerged after World War II when that Bird fellow came along and reinvented the whole thing. Bop I believe it was called. Then came bebop. Or are bebop and bop the same thing? Then there was cool jazz and West Coast jazz and smooth jazz and fusion. Brubeck did one of those kinds of jazz, or maybe he did all of them. "Take Five" sounds pretty cool to me. For the sake of argument,  let's just say he did that.

I really shouldn't blame that Bird fellow--Charlie Parker, right?--for my lack of knowledge about jazz. That's irresponsible. Instead, it's the intellectuals, the ones with pointy heads especially, that are at fault. Before WWII, jazz was much like early rock 'n' roll in the way it thrilled the young and shocked the old. Then in the 1950s the eggheads came along and claimed the music as their own and suddenly it was just like classical and you had to be educated in jazz in order to fully appreciate or even understand it. Bone up on your blues, class. There'll be a test tomorrow.

As is often said when art and ignorance clash, I do know what jazz I like, and I like "Take Five":



 If you're just looking at the freeze frame rather than the actual video, you may think the fellow on the sax is Brubeck. No, that's actually Paul Desmond, a member of The Dave Brubeck Quartet who wrote the piece and played the--well, what the hell do you think he played? Also featured is Joe Morello on drums, Eugene Wright on bass, and Brubeck himself on piano. The Quartet had many other members over the years, but I guess this was the most famous version.



If you did play the video, you'll notice it's an instrumental. However, a few years later a version with  lyrics written by Brubeck and sung by jazz singer Carmen MacRae came out. I like it even more:



 I get the impression from people who know a lot more about jazz than me that it's music you're supposed to listen to very carefully, so as not to miss some intricately improvised chord progression that shifts the overall tone blah, blah, blah. But I bet for a lot of people, including those who consider themselves jazz enthusiasts, it occasionally and simply makes good background music. Especially if the piece is familiar. This clip is from Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993). Listen carefully, and see if you can't discern "Take Five" in-between Alan Alda's, Woody Allen's, Diane Keaton's dinnertime patter:


  Did you catch the chord progression? Or was Alda laughing too loud?

OK, enough already with "Take Five". Another famous Brubeck piece is "Unsquare Dance", which I also like. It features both hand-clapping and something done on the drums, and is a favorite of tap dancers everywhere, because they enjoy confusing the issue. Is it the clap, the tap, or the drum you're hearing? Watch these two perform and figure it out for yourself:


Finally, to borrow a phrase from the decidedly unjazzlike Steppenwolf, let's take a magic carpet ride.  "Blue Rondo à la Turk":
 


OK, it turns out I'm familiar with all of these pieces. I just didn't know, until I started researching this, their names or that they were by Dave Brubeck or that they were even considered jazz. It's just music I've heard over and over again in movies, TV shows, half-time shows, and talent shows . Maybe even when I've been put on hold.

What a way to get an education.


 





 

8 comments:

  1. Kirk, I owned the Take Five album in the '60s, and I liked it, but always thought it would make me cooler to be thought a jazz fan than say, a Beatles fan. As it turns out they're both very cool.

    Thanks for the videos, none of which I'd seen before I saw them here.

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    1. Well, Postino, both rock and jazz are children of the blues. I guess there's always been a sibling rivalry between the two.

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  2. Unsquare dancing, definitely better than the square variety. My cousin is a sax player and I grew up listening to him talk about Brubeck and playing Brubeck. What a master he was. RIP Dave. Thanks for the vids.

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    1. Listen to the very end of "Unsquare Dancing", Patricia, and you'll hear a bit of "Turkey in the Straw".

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  3. Very nice tribute Kirk.
    Way back in 1976 Al Jarreau made this song popular on FM rock stations across the country, a vocal version in his singular style. Al and Dave may have started me on my journey exploring jazz.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhq7fSrXn0c

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  4. Al Jarreau's version, Mike, may be one of the reasons why I'm familiar with "Take Five" in the first place. Some wild scat singing in that clip!

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  5. I'm a big fan of Brubeck. Have several CDs. Nice to listen again.

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    1. I just covered the high points, Kass. I'm sure there's hidden gems that you know about and I don't.

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