Time Out is Dave Brubeck’s renowned album released in 1959. The album includes songs with unfamiliar time signatures for jazz such as 9/8, 5/4 and many more. Time Out is considered the first jazz album to sell a million copies and the single “Take Five” from the album was also the first jazz single to sell one million copies. The album was awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2009.
We want to start the journey of Time Out by giving a little background about Brubeck and what he intended while releasing the album. Brubeck was always into odd time signatures in jazz, from the beginning of his career, but never made it to any of his albums. He studied at a music college, Mills College, and one of his loved advisors were a classical composer who worked mostly with polyrhythms. Brubeck was quite uncertain about what he would pursue his career as, a classical musician or a jazz musician. After his trip to Turkey in 1958, he was dazzled by the odd time signatures commonly used everywhere in Turkey folk songs, such as 9/8, 6/4, 5/4 and so on. These meters were extremely rare for European music and quite unorthodox for jazz music. In 1961, Dave Brubeck told Ralph Gleason on the TV program Jazz Casual that jazz had lost some of its adventurous qualities. He said it wasn’t challenging the public rhythmically the way it had in its early days. Even though the end of 50s was very exciting (Saxophone Colossus, Kind of Blue, many more…) there weren’t any great changes in theory of jazz, all the melody and improv were still on 4/4 beats.
During the 1958 tour, he tried some of these odd time signatures with his quartet, Brubeck and the quartet was bewildered how their drummer, Joe Morello, could match all the odd beats with the drum. Finally, they decided to release an album, consisting of these odd time signatures. They flew to New York after the tour, and over three sessions, they completed the album, Time Out, which will later become one of the most listened jazz albums ever released.
Dave Brubeck – piano.
Paul Desmond – alto saxophone.
Eugene Wright – bass.
Joe Morello – drums.
1. Blue Rondo a la Turk (6:44)
The opener of the album, “Blue Rondo a la Turk” starts with an emphatic, clear 9/8 melody on the piano. A transition occurs between the wind instruments and piano several times with a chord progression still accompanying the distinctive 9/8 melody. After it loops for some time, chord progression reaches its peak and several transitions that shift the beat and brass improvisation enters. This transition indicates that the distinctive 2-2-2-3 introduction is over. The brass-piano transitions create a perfect contrast and reveal a fine transition into the main parts of the song. This introduction is respected as one of the most unusual and finest preludes in the jazz history.
“Rondo” means a musical form with a recurring leading theme, often found in the final movement of a sonata or concerto. We can take the meaning as “musical form” in this context. So far, the pattern where 9/8 piano and improvise-like brass switches continuously, repeats throughout the song. This repetition frequents at the prelude, transitions and most of the ending part. Corresponding with the name, this pattern makes the song more “Turk”. How? 9/8 is a special, unusual time signature which is commonly used Greek and Turkish culture. Most Turkish and Greek folk songs are based on 9/8 time signatures. Also, “a la Turk” means “the Turkish style”. Knowing this, the link between the very non-orientalist, non-Turkish sensation of the song and the name of it becomes clear and emphatic, as it shows Brubeck’s talents of taking a very orientalist time signature and using it, actually, including it in the jazz literature, forever, with this unforgettable song.
2. Strange Meadow Lark (7:22)
Strange Meadow Lark starts with a very relaxing, jovial piano solo. This solo lasts around two minutes and with its softer dynamics and unhurried approach to upcoming brass improvisation quite fits what “cool” jazz really is. Unlike the first song of the album, Blue Rondo a la Turk, the prelude has such a low tempo and an easeful melody. Again, unlike Blue Rondo a la Turk, piano prelude ends with a 4/4 beat on drum following a neat, slow brass improvisation. Transition to a neat brass improv from a low tempo piano introduction creates a perfect, peaceful atmosphere for cool jazz. Several beat syncopated transitions occur in the midst, although these transitions are subtle, it is one of the main components in this song which make listeners maintain their attention. Similar to the end of Blue Rondo a la Turk, the song ends with a pattern reminding the introduction of the song, a low tempo, similar piano improv. Once more, increased use of brushes on drum, lighter tones on brass and a focus on collective improv are what makes Strange Meadow Lark, in our opinion, one of the best cool jazz songs.
3. Take Five (5:24)
TAKE FIVE! The most listened, -respected by many as- the best ever written jazz song. What’s so special about Take Five?
Basically, Take Five and Blue Rondo a la Turk, having the time signatures 5/4 and 9/8, were essentially the most important songs in the album, taking into account what Brubeck and his quartet intended while releasing Time Out (check the introduction for more info!). Take Five starts with a distinctive 5/4 beat on drum brushes and piano (Try it, count it! 1-2 1-2-3). After a few seconds, the brass starts the one of the catchiest melodies ever. Seasoned jazz listeners will understand that the brass melody, isn’t solely an improv but a well-constructed melody arranged ahead of time, which, in our opinion, one of the most important elements that makes this melody catchy. While the beat on drum brushes and piano remains the same, melody changes between arranged brass and drum solos. At the end solos cease, and drum and piano continues the 5/4 beat, simply poetically, extending along the jazz history, becoming a perennial melody for jazz-lovers.
4. Three to Get Ready (5:24)
Coming to the album’s fourth song, Three to Get Ready, strong and neat improvs on alto saxophone and drum following a peaceful waltz awaits us. First of all, Three to Get Ready starts with a 3/4 beat on drum and piano, often called a “waltz”. In the context of jazz, the reason why it is named as a “waltz” (or “waltz time” for 3/4) is not because the music is intended to be a waltz, by any means, but the 3/4 time signature is the distinctive beat of every waltz in classical music. (New jazz listeners may have a hard time distinguishing a waltz time or a 6/8 time — especially in this context (Time Out), as album is renowned by the usage of odd time signatures. We will release a post on how to distinguish between them very soon. Stay tuned!) After a few seconds, alto sax and drums enter separately, performing their neat improvs. A transition between a short or a long improv on on the sax/drum and 3/4 “waltzy walk” on piano loops until the end of the song. Again, the improvs are not ferocious, or “dropping bombs”; however they’re (probably arranged, in our opinion, this is what makes it great) neat, very easy-going and tasteful. Three to Get Ready, finishes similarly to its introduction (like every other song in the album so far) waltz beat on drums and piano, a slow, peaceful melody: tranquil and smooth…
5. Kathy’s Waltz (4:48)
The fifth song in the album, Kathy’s Waltz, starts with a smooth, calm melody with drums and bass accompanying Dave Brubeck’s elegant piano introduction. After this continues some time, the song really makes a transition into a “waltz”, a modulation after a small break occurs and a double 3/4 beat starts. (This is different than a normal 3/4, or a 6/8. We will release a post explaining all these details and possible confusions regarding 3/4, 6/8 and other variations of it. Stay tuned!) A 3/4 beat is a waltz time in jazz context, this is actually where the name of the song is coming from. (Also Kathy is the misspelled name of Brubeck’s daughter, Cathy.) Main improvs start after the modulation: brass and piano improvs are collectively made throughout the midst of the song. These improvs are well-going with the introduction and are accompanied with a 4/4 drum beat. Near to the end, two strong chord progression by Dave Brubeck on piano create an emphatic tension, even though these parts are in contrast with the main parts of this “Waltz” song, it is very well organized and not very disturbing. More like, sheer creativity by Dave Brubeck!
6. Everybody’s Jumpin’ (4:23)
Everybody’s Jumpin’ is joyful, active and creative. The song gets its name by the high tempo chords played throughout the song, mostly frequented at the beginning and the end. Everybody’s Jumpin’ has a loose tempo which is more inclined to be labeled as a 6/4 piece, again, an odd time signature for the jazz literature. Everybody’s Jumpin’ contains neat and well-going improvs on piano and alto saxophone. Also, even though it is, more or less, subtle, some of the bass and drum improvs following the “jumping”s of the high tempo chords is one of the essential components of this catchy song. Joe Morello’s quick drum solo at the midst is one of the most distinctive elements of the song. Everybody’s Jumpin’ ends with a collective chord progression from all instruments, which is strong and quite solid.
7. Pick up Sticks (4:16)
Pick Up Sticks is the last song on the album Time Out. It starts with a definite 6/4 beat, mainly organized by the bass, accompanying Dave Brubeck’s small piano sessions. Unlike other songs in the album, Eugene Wright, the bassist, is the key element, and the anchor that maintains the odd time signature accompanying the melody, throughout the song. Brubeck’s piano and esmond’s alto saxophone exchange small sessions of improvisation while the beat remains unchanged, unmodulated. The song has a distinct “swingy” and smooth feeling, again, in our opinion, slightly differing from the different smooth and “swingy” feeling that the other songs have. The song peaks and comes close to the end with a session of Brubeck’s piano and Joe Morello, the drummer, following him to the end.