Aman, Radha and Ramjee’s take on Mr. Brubeck

Take five… and a lot more

The Hindu, December 18, 2012

City musicians tell NEHA MUJUMDAR what Dave Brubeck meant to them

BRUBECK’S MUSICComes from a school of improvisation that is clear, melodic and appealingPhoto: AFP

BRUBECK’S MUSICComes from a school of improvisation that is clear, melodic and appealingPhoto: AFP

It’s one of the enduring curiosities of popular memory that the tune most often associated with Dave Brubeck — the groovy, languid ‘Take Five’ — wasn’t actually written by him.

It remains one of the popular recordings, put together by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, but it was written by the saxophonist Paul Desmond. It’s the track that Sachal Studios chose to provide a very entertaining desi version for.

It’s the number a popular city jazz-themed bar is named after. For many – like this writer – it was even the introduction to Dave Brubeck’s music, and to the world of jazz.

But there are plenty of other ways to remember Dave Brubeck, at least for some of the city’s musicians. We spoke to four musicians, of various stripes, and asked them to remember the great jazz pianist, who passed away earlier this month.

Aman Mahajan, jazz pianist

I first listened to Dave Brubeck when I was in high school. This was some of the earliest music I heard that inspired me to get into jazz, so it will always have a special place for me. I had the opportunity to see Dave Brubeck live in Boston. He was almost 90 at the time. I was thrilled at the chance to hear him live, and his perceptible dedication to the music was tremendously inspiring.

Brubeck’s music comes from a school of improvisation that is clear, melodic and appealing. I try to cultivate this style in my own playing whenever I can. His ideas of playing around with non-traditional time signatures and polyrhythms also appeal to me and come out in my own compositions. Dave Brubeck had the knack for using sophisticated musical techniques in very accessible ways – so it’s easy for his music to appeal to musicians and non-musicians alike.

A few favourite tracks – ‘It’s A Raggy Waltz’, ‘Blue Ronda A La Turk’, ‘The Duke’, ‘Unsquare Dance’.

Ramjee Chandran, guitarist

I think all jazz musicians have an association with Brubeck. His music has been seminal, particularly in the context of the post-bop world where jazz moved in many different directions. So, yes, everyone would have been influenced… by his experiments with odd time signatures, for example. I cannot recall when I first heard Brubeck, but I do remember being taken up with ‘Unsquare Dance’ (in 7 time). I cannot say that I have too many influences from Brubeck[…] but I will say that Paul Desmond’s ‘Take 5’ is the “Brubeck tune” most synonymous with jazz for Bangalore audiences.

Narayanaswamy V., conductor and music teacher

I first heard Dave Brubeck on an audio cassette in 1979, at the home of a friend who listened to some jazz. Later, my friend (the late organist) J.T Williams used to play a lot of Dave Brubeck, and I used to accompany him on trumpet. We wouldn’t play for performances, just for fun.

In 2005, I found a vocal score for ‘Take Five’ available for purchase at Furtado’s in Mumbai. There was only one copy, and I quickly picked it up. Since then, I have taught the song to the choir at FAPS.

Radha Thomas, vocalist

According to saxophonist extraordinaire David Liebman, Brubeck had the misfortune of being popular. Most jazz musicians go through life chromatically, trying to achieve some measure of success step-by-step, so they can feed themselves, their families and sometimes their habits with some ease, some consistency. It’s not always easy, because most people can’t stand the sound of jazz and so won’t pay too much to hear it.

Jazz musicians find themselves, even till today, playing at McDonalds, hotel lobbies and other places where they provide ambient music, not much different from, say, air-freshener… Dave Brubeck was different.

He achieved great success in his own lifetime. This kind of success brought with it jeers and boos from some of his peers who regarded ‘popular’ music as being untrue to the very mystery that jazz musicians set about to create.

But whatever one feels about Brubeck and his music, he is a role model for the aspiring jazz musician, with a juicy career spanning six decades, both composing and performing on several tunes that define jazz as it is today

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