Dave Brubeck messes with time

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/09/18/dave-brubeck-messes-with-time.html


A little jazz for our Wednesday…


THAT was indeed a wonderful thing. Just delightful!


“Video unavailable”

And the Timeline of Stupidity strikes again.

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The Exploratorium has an “Unsquare Dance” video in one of it’s music installations.


That must have been brutal for the dancers to learn. I remember the first time a mixed meter piece was put in front of me. 5/4 4/4 I believe. It was an absolute train wreck!


I had to do a routine choreographed to “Take Five” (5/4), which is a Turkish rhythm but still exhausting if a dancer hasn’t had thorough training in 5/4.


FWIW I’m (very tentatively) learning to play “The Duke” (Edit: on piano) (though I’m much more familiar with Miles Davis’s version from Miles Ahead). But it’s in a piddling 4/4.

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I learned of that excellent piece from the opening of Baby Driver. Thanks for that and so much else, Edgar Wright.

The difficulty of following the beat reminds me of the beginning of The Who’s Slip Kid. Clap along!


I bet. Take 5 is a great piece, in part because unlike much of Brubeck’s more esoteric time experiments it remains accessible. Back when I was playing regularly I occasionally played more experimental jazz. I almost never got into it. It often seemed to be an exercise in “can I?” without ever considering


Lest one forget https://youtu.be/x6zypc_LhnM


There’s a great story about when Arlo’s mother Marjorie goes with a friend to talk to Woody Guthrie about providing music to a modern dance piece the friend was doing.

Woody never plays the same way twice, so it was impossible for tge dancers to follow. I forget the final outcome, though it worked put for a while since Marjorie married Woody. She was with the Martha Graham Company, and was considered good enough to teach that style.

The story is definitel in Ed Cray’s 2006 biography of Woody. It gives decent space to Marjorie. I can’t remember if this is covered in Joe Klein’s biography about Woody from aroind 1981. I know the later book told me more about Marjorie and the last years of Woody’s life than the first book.


I love David Brubeck, but if it’s brutal meter work you’re after consider the works of Conlon Nancarrow. He composed for synchronized player pianos and could be said to be the first real composer for “computer” driven machines. He was known to have subjected his crazed meters to tempo ratios based on irrational numbers. Sometimes the various parts would accelerate or decelerate in relation to each other. If you’re curious, you can listen to this stuff on the web. It kind of sounds like Captain Beefheart dropping a piano down a flight of stairs. Each collision has been carefully constructed.

If that’s too much for you, then just relax to the foot tapping music of Meshuggah.


One of my favorite Brubeck pieces to use an odd time signature is “Blue Rondo a la Turk”, which is in 9/8 time.


In terms of “odd” meters, this piece is not really…odd. It’s really a pretty strict 4/4 meter followed by a strict 3/4, both phrases being clearly defined, distinct and simple. To write it out one would use “7/4” for convenience, simplicity and readability, but it could, if one were brutal to oneself, be written to switch back and forth from 4 to 3, over and over. I could cite many pieces in 7 that blur the bar lines and would be, I imagine, utter hell to attempt to dance to.


one of the things i love about Brubeck and his odd time signatures, is that they still flow. They are easy to listen too. they still groove.

The album “Time Out” is a masterpiece worth checking out. As a drummer I have always loved Joe Morello’s playing on it.


Spoken like someone who has never danced Balkan! :slight_smile:


“Unsquare Dance”? I dunno, those dancers looked pretty square to me.

I was actually listening to this song over the weekend, it’s a pretty basic blues chord change, grafted onto a beat that reminds me of Balkan folk music.

“Time Out” was such a big hit for Brubeck that he did three more “out time” LPs: “Time Further Out”, “Time Changes” and “Time In Outer Space.”


Primus has some great odd metered songs. My favorite is Eleven, so named for obvious reasons… . https://youtu.be/asAa1_N_rso

Frank Zappa liked to overlay lines with different time signatures.

“At this very moment on stage, we have Drummer A playing in 7/8, Drummer B playing in 3/4, the bass playing in 3/4, the organ playing in 5/8, the tambourine playing in 3/4, and the alto sax… blowing his nose.”