Never was a track less likely to trouble the pop charts. Take Five is a jazz piece; it’s an instrumental; it’s in 5/4 time; and it was supposed to be a drum solo. In spite of all that Take Five reached number 25 on the US Billboard charts and did even better in the UK, spending 14 weeks in the top 40 and peaking at number 6.
Take Five was recorded for the Time Out album by The Dave Brubeck Quartet in the summer of 1959. On the album it’s 5 minutes 24 seconds long with a substantial drum solo in the middle. The track was re-recorded and trimmed to under three minutes for the single, ironically, by cutting out most of the drum solo. The single was originally released in September 1959 but it wasn’t until it was re-released in May 1961 that it caught the imagination of the public and entered the charts.
In those days – before the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who, and well before the psychedelic rock of the Flower Power years – Take Five dared to be different. Its unusual time signature gives it a lop-sided, lolloping beat, inviting us to move our feet but defying all efforts to fit the steps of a recognised dance to it. This is not the kind of jazz that sounds as if someone is strangling a goose; it is a song-without-words in which an alto sax takes the place of the singer and the melody sits easy on the ear. It is that combination of idiosyncratic beat and lilting tune that gives it such appeal.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica Take Five is the best selling jazz single of all time. That’s quite an accolade for a record that was never meant to be popular.
Somewhere, I think, I have the sheet music for Take Five. It’s written in the key of E-flat minor whose key signature has six flats, so it’s played almost exclusively on the black notes of the piano. In the past I have made half-hearted attempts to play it on my old electric piano but, as I never learned to play the piano, the result has always been predictably ghastly.