How the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Use of Complex Time Signatures on ‘Time Out’ Made Jazz More Accessible

Music essayist Noah LeFevre of Polyphonic (previously) takes a deep dive into the legendary Dave Brubeck Quartet album Time Out. LeFevre specifically notes Brubeck’s groundbreaking use of complex time signatures within each song on the album. Brubeck had learned several of these unfamiliar signatures while he was off in Eastern Europe, fighting Communism with jazz. Surprisingly, this unusual use of time signatures served not only to add nuance and color, but also changed the way jazz was perceived by the modern public.

The album peaked at number two on the Billboard Pop Albums chart in 1959 and “Take Five” has consistently stood alone as a timeless instrumental that originally started out as a 5/4 piano vamp.

And though he wanted to turn this into a song, Brubeck had trouble finding a melody. What he did find was the vamp, a short simple phrase over [Joe] Morello’s drums. That piano vamp drove home the division of a 5/4 rhythm. …and while this groove was smooth, it took Paul Desmond’s writing to turn it into a song – the centerpiece of ‘Time Out’ – ‘Take Five’. At the behest of Brubeck and Morello, Desmond wrote a pair of saxophone melodies that became the main thrust of the song.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.