Dave Brubeck: An Unlikely Hit, 50 Years Strong

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Dave Brubeck says "Take Five" was successful because radio listeners wouldn't stop requesting it.

Dave Brubeck says "Take Five" was successful because radio listeners wouldn't stop requesting the song. Timm Schamberger/DDP hide caption

toggle caption Timm Schamberger/DDP

In 1959, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck topped the pop charts and shook up the notion of rhythm in jazz with an odd-metered song called "Take Five."

Only trained musicians might understand exactly what gave the Paul Desmond-penned song its flow. It was all in the time signature: five beats to the measure, a departure from more traditional four-four time in jazz. It was cutting-edge and cool — a song millions would scoop up and savor. In an interview with Michele Norris, Brubeck explains what made the time signature so difficult.

"You were brought up playing in four-four," Brubeck says. "Everybody could walk to it and dance to it. Put an extra beat on it — everybody's tripping."

Fifty years ago, "Take Five" appeared on Time Out, a title that served as a double-entendre. Those in the know knew it referenced the mood and the music's meter.

At age 89, Brubeck has slowed down, but he's still playing and writing music.

"The more you get to play, the better it is — just play as you can while you can," Brubeck says. "I can't wait for the next job so we can play."

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