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Interviews

1959: The Year Classic Albums Were Born

By Published: November 2, 2009

Blumenthal notes that there was also a controversy apart from Brubeck's worthiness at the time, that being does jazz have to be 4/4 time or not. "People had played jazz waltzes, but they were kind of controversial. Benny Carter made a record in 1936 called 'Waltzing the Blues' and a lot of people that were in his band said, 'This is a good record. But it's not a jazz record because it's a waltz. Max Roach made an entire album of waltzes before Time Out came out. It was called Jazz in Time (Verve, 1956). That was considered a very radical thing to do. When Time Out appeared, for some people—forget about that it was Dave Brubeck—they get an album where everything was 3/4 or 5/4 or 7/4. They couldn't understand it."

He references the former jazz program in Lenox, Mass. (The Lenox School of Jazz, 1957-1960), which featured panel discussions on the art form, as well as instruction for and by musicians. "I remember Brubeck telling me at the one they held in 1960, they had a panel about time signatures in jazz and some critics were getting up and saying, 'this album Brubeck made is not a jazz album with all this 5/4 time and stuff.' And an African musicologist got up to say, 'In Africa, we have music that uses all these different time patterns. That sounds like jazz to us.' That part of it was controversial at the time."

He notes that Brubeck's music and Desmond's sound had the support of people like Ellington, Bird and Coleman Hawkins

Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
1904 - 1969
sax, tenor
, among others. "So, it's not as if they didn't have strong supporters among great jazz musicians ... They made their commercial recordings. They did an album of Disney songs and they did an album of songs from the south, like "Oh Susanna" and things like this. But this was kind of their avant-garde record of the period. It sounded like strange music the first time people heard it. The idea that a song in 5/4 time would not only become acceptable, but become a hit record was the farthest thing from anybody's mind when they made this album."

Adds Blumenthal, "When you've got a successful group, particularly at that moment, historically, if you had a working band you might release three albums a year. So you had to have a lot of material and enough ideas to make one album set itself apart from the other albums. There are some very predictable ways to do that, like the George Gershwin

George Gershwin
George Gershwin
1898 - 1937
composer/conductor
songbook, the Cole Porter
Cole Porter
Cole Porter
1891 - 1964
composer/conductor
songbook. You can just make albums about individual composers. You can do albums about movies. The movies of Fred Astaire. The movies of Walt Disney, what have you. This was more of a musical concept than any kind of a marketing concept. To have these more abstract and musically challenging projects in the mix was a healthy thing for a band like Brubeck's to have."

It opened doors for musicians to start thinking about moving music in different ways.

"I think the tendency among creative musicians when they hear something new is to see what sense they can make of it. Even though you might not hear the influence in the sense that you count up the number of people who recorded specific songs. When you realize more people are playing in these more unusual time signatures, this album had to play a part in it," says Blumenthal. "You can say nobody made a cover version of Time Out until so many years later. But I don't think you can measure the impact in that kind of simple way. I think it's very complex. Hearing a song like 'Pick Up Sticks' in 7/4. When you hear people playing in 7/4, I'm sure part of it is because they heard that and said, 'Can I do that? And if I can do that, how can I use it?'More that than, 'Can I copy the Brubeck recording?'

l:r: Joe Morello, Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright, Dave Brubeck

That album has more longevity than any Brubeck recorded in his illustrious career. Right up to today, Brubeck, who will be 89 in December and tours regularly, can't get off the stage without playing "Take Five."

"I wonder if part of it is because the rhythms are so unusual for that time," surmises Blumenthal. "The melodies had to be very clear. For all the great music Brubeck wrote, like 'In Your Own Sweet Way' or 'The Duke,' they don't have that succinctness, melodically that 'Blue Rondo' and 'Take Five'—which Brubeck didn't even write, Desmond wrote. Though it sounds like Brubeck put it together for him. I think that might have something to do with it. A melody on piece like 'Take Five' is very basic, once you get down to it. 'In Your Own Sweet Way' goes through all 12 keys in eight bars, harmonically. That's pretty complicated. It's popular, but it doesn't have that common appeal that something like 'Take Five' might have."



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