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Dave Brubeck: Time Outtakes

The original 1959 cover of Dake Brubeck's Time Out

The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out is a rarity. It’s an adventurous, experimental, instrumental jazz album that was also a popular success. Recorded over four sessions in the summer of 1959, the album explored unusual time signatures and produced the unlikely hit “Take Five.” According to Billboard magazine, Time Out was the first jazz album to sell a million copies. It’s been a steady seller through the years and has since gone double platinum.

Over the course of a career that ran from his service in World War II until his death at the age of 92 in 2012, Dave Brubeck established himself as one of jazz’s great composers, pianists and bandleaders. His most famous and popular band was the classic quartet centered around the pianist’s remarkable musical partnership with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. The group really gelled when drummer Joe Morello and bassist Eugene Wright joined in the late 1950s.

For decades, re-releases of classic jazz albums have often included alternate takes and previously unheard session tracks. But alternate takes from Brubeck’s Time Out have never been released before now because of one simple reason: no one knew they existed.

The takes were discovered a few years ago by a pair of authors who were researching archives for two books about Brubeck, Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time by Philip Clark and Dave Brubeck’s Time Out by Stephen A. Crist. During a break in an English tour by Brubecks Play Brubeck, a band featuring three of Brubeck’s sons (Darius, piano; Chris, bass and trombone; Dan, drums), the younger Brubecks listened to hours of music that never made it on the Time Out LP and were amazed.

“These were not just takes that weren’t used because they weren’t any good,” Chris Brubeck says. “These are actually great takes. Mainly these are better than what went on Time Out for various reasons.”

The Brubeck family decided to release this collection of previously unheard alternate performances, cleverly titled Time Outtakes, to mark the centennial of Dave Brubeck’s birth on December 6, 1920.

The opening track on the original Time Out, “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” is a composition in 9/8 inspired by Turkish street musicians Brubeck heard during the quartet’s 1958 State Department tour. The composition features the opening and closing 9/8 theme bookending a long, blues section in 4/4. Both Desmond and Brubeck play impeccable solos on the familiar album version, but Chris Brubeck says he prefers his dad’s solo on the earlier, longer, alternate take because it’s more closely integrated with the composed theme.

“Instead of the blues having nothing to do with the previous melody, it actually ties in beautifully architecturally,” he explains. “And Paul is playing in a very strange tonal way, which I think he was thinking some of the crazy Middle Eastern horns he probably heard. He was definitely thinking about that rather than Charlie Parker when he played his solo.”

The most famous track from Time Out is “Take Five,” which was released as a single in 1961 and remains one of the most familiar jazz tunes ever. Brubeck asked Desmond to write something in 5/4 and he came up with a couple of themes that the pianist helped put together.

The alternate take is fascinating to compare with the version selected for Time Out several days later. Not only is Desmond still working on the famous “Take Five” melody, but drummer Joe Morello is playing a more difficult pattern. Chris says that was complete surprise to him and his brothers.

“On this version his beat was so complicated and so dislocated and syncopated that you can hear during a track of band banter at the end of the album that Joe can’t even remember how to coordinate his limbs to play this crazy beat he came up with, “ Chris says. “Joe was a supremely technical drummer, so I never actually heard of a situation where he didn’t know exactly what he was doing.”

The alternate take of “Strange Meadowlark” is edited together from a couple different attempts to get an acceptable version on tape. Chris Brubeck says his dad played a beautiful intro, but then Desmond got lost and they had to stop the tape.

“I heard references to my dad saying ‘Oh, man, I wish we could have used that take where I played such a beautiful intro’,” he explains. “We found a different take where Paul comes in and plays his solo and we used that and so it was two takes married together. This way we got the best of Dave’s piano work and I think Paul’s solo is even more beautiful than what’s on Time Out.

Chris Brubeck says it was a thrilling experience listening to these outtakes and hearing how the Dave Brubeck Quartet developed the music for its most famous album.

“Of course, I have a very unique perspective,” he says. “As a little kid, I used to crawl under the piano and listen to that group rehearse. It was a wonderful place to listen to the music and also a safe place because I couldn’t be in anyone’s way and no one was about to step on me. They were all such fantastic musicians and they all worked so well together. My dad gave everyone a lot of freedom to do what they were good at doing and the way they came together was perfect chemistry.”

But for the rest of us who never had such an intimate experience with the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet, it’s thrilling to get some behind-the-scenes insight into the creation of the group’s most famous and beloved album. It’s also a Christmas wish come true for Brubeck fans celebrating the jazz great’s centennial.