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During breaks from studying classical music with his mother, Dave Brubeck (born in California in 1920) jetted off to form local jazz bands. In 1949, he formed a trio which soon became a quartet after saxophonist Paul Desmond joined. The quartet recorded many albums and stayed together until 1967. Their historic album Time Out was the first jazz album to experiment with compound meter (see the sidebar “What time is it, anyway?”), giving birth to the first jazz single, “Take Five,” to sell a million copies.
Part VII: The Part of Tens
What time is itf anyway?
Meter is a theoretical way to measure time in music. (See Chapter 5 for more on meter.) The most common meter, or time signature, is appropriately called common time, and it consists of four beats per measure. In music shorthand, this is referred to as 4/4 meter.
Jazz music was always rich in harmonic complexity, melodic improvisation, virtuoso playing, and free-swinging rhythms. But not until the Dave Brubeck Quartet's experimental album Time Outdid jazz begin to explore musical meters other than common time (4/4) or waltz tempo (3/4).
After a tour abroad, Brubeck was entranced by a Turkish rhythm in the remote meter of 9/8. Inspired, he and his band set out to make a jazz album that would experiment specifically with meter. The result was a surprise hit and a hit single — yes, there is such a thing in jazz — and an even bigger surprise. The single, "Take Five," was set to a previously undanceable 5/4 meter.
Since then, there has been only one other huge hit in 5/4: Lalo Schifrin's theme to the TV show Mission Impossible. Even today, meters other than 4/4,3/4, and 6/8 are rarely heard in popular songs.
Born in New York, Evans (1929-1980) played piano through college and the army. Undeterred by Uncle Sam, he recorded his first album in 1956, joined the legendary trumpet player Miles Davis in 1958, and formed a trio in 1960. Evans’s most controversial recording was the album Conversations with Myself, in which he mixed two or three recordings of his own piano playing together for one combined sound. Jazz purists were horrified! But time quickly proved that Evans’s unconventional mind would soon pave a whole new way for jazz composition and recording.
Hancock (born in Illinois in 1940) studied piano from the age of 7. Four years later he played the first movement of a Mozart concerto with the Chicago Symphony. After recording for Blue Note Records and playing with Miles Davis, he formed a new kind of jazz quartet that used several keyboards and synthesizers. Hancock was more commercially-minded than some of his contemporaries, producing the song “Rockit” that rocketed up the pop charts and winning an Oscar for his score to the motion picture ‘Round Midnight. He has recently returned to less-commercial, more jazz-oriented projects.
Chapter 18: Ten Types of Performers and Their Recordinqs 277
He may not have chanted in a Gregorian monastery, but this Monk from North Carolina left an indelible mark on the history of American music.
Monk (1917-1982) worked as a house pianist at a popular club, Minton’s Playhouse, and introduced a new form of jazz called bop, which was more complex, less traditional-sounding, but oh so cool to hear. His first recording came in 1944 and was followed by a series of his own compositions for Blue Note Records. Initially his records were not big sellers, but his controversial and unorthodox style of playing and composing was finally accepted as genius. Hey, hindsight is always 20/20, right? The film Straight, No Chaser chronicles Monk’s life.
Mostly self-taught, Ohio-born Tatum (1909-1956) was a first-class musician. He began losing his sight at an early age, becoming completely blind in one eye and partly blind in the other. Vision impairment didn’t inhibit his career; he recorded, toured, and frequently broadcast on the radio. Bringing new meaning to the words two-hand piano, his unique and amazing style caused listeners to think they were hearing two pianists, when in fact it was Art alone. He formed a trio in 1943 but returned to recording as a soloist a few years later. His style is noted for its stride and swing rhythms combined with sophisticated harmonies. Among his many fans was Russian classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz.
Jazz up your collection
Whether in a smoke-filled bar or smoke-filled recording studio, these giants loved to play. Hear them strut their stuff in these landmark recordings:
Dave Brubeck: Time Out (CBS); Time Further Out (CBS).
V Bill Evans: Conversations with Myself (Verve); Re: Person I Knew (OJC).
J’ Herbie Hancock: Headhunters (CBS); Best of Herbie Hancock (Blue Note Records); 'Round Midnight Soundtrack (CBS).
J' Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Monk Trio (OJC); Big Band and Quartet in Concert (Columbia); Straight, No Chaser (Columbia).
J’ Art Tatum: 20th Century Piano Genius (Verve).
278 Part VII: The Part of Tens