Take Five From Wine And Imbibe Genius

It’s been called the best five minutes in the history of Jazz.

I’d be hard pressed to deny this assessment of “Take Five”, the great composition by Paul Desmond and performance to perfection by Dave Brubeck, who died today at 91 years of age.

Many wine lovers will point to a particular wine and insist it was the wine that put them on the road to wine geekdom. For me it was never one wine. But I can say this: Whenever someone tells me they don’t “GET” jazz or doesn’t like jazz or don’t understand Jazz, I always sit them down and ask them to listen to “Take Five”. It is a composition of monumental beauty and among the tightest performances and recordings of all time. Its percussion line is haunting. Its melody (such as it is) is among the most memorable you and recognizable in all of American music.

Dave Brubeck’s last individual recording came in 2007 at 86 years of age when he released “Indian Summer”. This long and winding set of ballads could easily serve as his own requiem. The name of the recording and the melodic, slow, intensely introspective nature of the songs (both original compositions and otherwise) hint at end of life contemplations.

But then, there is “Take Fave”. If you have never listened to this recording with intent, I urge you to put on headphones or ear buds or whatever it is you use to concentrate your mind on audio, sit back and listen. It’s only just over five minutes long. But what you will hear is aural genius that will be listened to and gawked at for as long as we listen to music. It has been my habit to do just this on a regular basis, almost always sucking up “Take Five” with bourbon in hand.

Brubeck’s “Take Five” is driven forward by a compelling saxophone melody, supported by one of the most insistent uses of a mere two chords ever put to use by a piano in a song. Finally, you have the drums. The drum solo in “Take Five” will be called by some the greatest in jazz history. It is a powerful endorsement of “negative space” in music. It drags the listener on as the two piano chords follow along, become every more evident and competitive. It is thrilling.

The passing of Dave Brubeck brings to an end the life of one of America’s greatest musicians and certainly one of the top jazz pianist ever to walk the earth. It is similar to the passing of a Robert Mondavi or Ernest Gallo of Andre Tchelistcheff. We mourn their passing yet stand back and marvel at the gifts they gave to their profession.

Take five from wine today to sit back and celebrate the life of Dave Brubeck.

Posted In: Jazz, Personal


9 Responses

  1. Charlie Olken - December 5, 2012

    My vinyl versions of early Bru recordings are worn thin because they were played so often.

    When I read that he had passed away today, I felt a part of my early education being torn away.

    Thanks for taking the time to honor one of the all-time greats.

  2. Tom Wark - December 5, 2012

    Charlie, if you get a chance, listen to “Indian Summer”, released by Brubeck 5 years ago. It’s solo piano. It’s perfect.

  3. Edible Arts - December 5, 2012

    I wholeheartedly agree. Take Five was the song that got me interested in music.
    And it is remarkable and an inspiration that he kept performing at a high level so late in life.

  4. Nick P - December 5, 2012

    Still feels like petting the cat backwards to me, but I do appreciate it.

  5. Lori - December 5, 2012

    I was a teenager in the ’60s when my brother came home from college with “Time Out” and introduced me to jazz. Two years ago my husband and I saw Brubeck in at the Toronto Jazz Festival. Frail and slow, he was helped across stage and to the piano. Then he proceeded to blow away the audience nonstop for about an hour and a half, as I recall. Then he was helped off stage. No encore.

    It’s so rare for me to be at the right place at the right time.

  6. Thomas Pellechia - December 6, 2012

    Brubeck was one of my inspirations to take piano lessons.

    Incidentally, the title, “Take Five” is a masterful play on words. Not only does it refer to the approximate duration of the cut, it is of course a phrase used by entertainers when they take a break…plus, it refers to the innovative 5/4 timing of Brubeck’s work.

    On the drums, few were as wonderful as Joe Morello.

    I had the absolute pleasure in the 60s to attend a concert at Lincoln Center that was billed Brubeck and Basie–what a date. Best part of growing up in NYCity was access to the Village Vanguard and other jazz venues.

  7. David Vergari - December 6, 2012

    I had an experience similar to Lori’s several years ago. What blew my mind was Brubeck’s curiosity about non-Jazz music forms and rhythms…along with one example in a song he played that evening. Amazing.

    • Thomas Pellechia - December 6, 2012


      Brubeck was slated to be a classical musician, but he loved jazz more.

  8. Zoeldar - December 6, 2012

    Great piece here…I believe it is so important to recognize/appreciate mastery in any form…and Bru was surely a master. Wonderful to see diverse topics in your blog…well


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