Dave Brubeck was a great American jazz pianist and composer and one of the creators of the style know as cool jazz. Jazz was born from African-American blues and spirituals, and quickly spread around the world to become one of the first genres of popular, or pop music. Jazz’s use of syncopated (off the beat) rhythms, “blue” or off-tune notes, and improvisation (making up music on the spot), is still heard in everything from modern classical music to rock and roll, R&B, and hip hop. Cool jazz was a reaction to the fast, difficult style of bebop jazz, which was itself a reaction to the dance styles of the “big bands” of the 1920s to 1940s.
A typical jazz tune can be adapted from existing songs such as “Someday My Prince Will Come”, or an original composition. This song is repeated at the beginning and the end as the “head”, while musicians take turn improvising a new melody during the “solos” in the middle. The remaining musicians repeat a pattern of chords, called the chord “changes”, to give the melody harmony throughout.
Organized by Brubeck from 1951, The Dave Brubeck Quartet is a typical jazz ensemble with a drummer (Joe Morello) to keep time, a bassist (Eugene Wright) to lay down the changes, a harmonizing instrument (Dave Brubeck on piano), and one or more melodic instruments (Paul Desmond on alto saxophone). The quartet’s most famous album is Time Out, which plays with your sense of time by using unusual or irregular meters of 5, 6, or 9 beats per measure.
“Blue Rondo a La Turk” was inspired by street music heard by the quartet while touring Turkey, and is written on a 9 beat pattern divided into 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 parts. The title of the song is a play on Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” (Rondo in the style of the Turks), which was itself inspired by Turkish military band music. An abrupt change into 4/4 marks the start of Paul Desmond’s solo, which showcases the relaxed and light sound of cool jazz.
“Take Five” is one of the best known jazz tunes of all time. Played entirely in 5/4 meter, you can hear the division of 5 beats (10 subdivisions) into 3 + 3 + 2 + 2 clearly in the piano part throughout – the same beat pattern as the “Mission Impossible” theme.
Kathy’s Waltz starts as an unassuming 4/4, which is then transformed into an upbeat 3/4 when Desmond enters. But during Brubeck’s piano solo, he magically returns to the original quadruple time while the drums and bass continue the triple time that started with saxophone. If you tap along to every 2 beats from the beginning, you will find there are exactly 3 beats of the faster triple time for every 2 beats of the slower quadruple time, a relationship called polyrhythm or hemiola.