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Dave Brubeck’s ‘Time Out’ Is the Essence of Cool

Celebrating the jazz classic as it reaches its 60th anniversary

By Jeff Terich

Jazz isn’t for everyone. That’s a lesson I’ve learned time and again over the years, from friends who’d tell me that they really liked the mixtape I gave them—except for that one track—to my own mother, who found jazz’s unpredictable, improvisational structures too chaotic for her tastes. I get it, I really do; it takes a certain amount of patience and determination to sit through a piece of music as intense and as unwieldy as John Coltrane’s Ascension, and all 40 minutes of it at that. But there are always exceptions. When people say, “I like all kinds of music, except country,” you can usually catch them making an exception for Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson or Dolly Parton. And when people say, “I like all kinds of music, except jazz,” they’re still likely to enjoy a record like Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. And they’ll almost certainly know and probably love Dave Brubeck’s Time Out.

Released in 1959 and coming up on its 60th anniversary this year, Time Out was an innovative piece of music for its time. Starting from the cool jazz style that had been popularized in the 1950s, pianist Brubeck’s compositions reconstructed jazz into unconventional shapes. He frequently changed time signatures in his compositions, and though there are standard 4/4 meters to be heard on the album, it’s the moments with divergent rhythms that stand out strongest, like “Blue Rondo à la Turk” in 9/8, or the breakout hit “Take Five,” which is perhaps the most famous song ever written in 5/4.

I remember the first time I heard “Take Five.” I couldn’t have been older than maybe seven or eight, and my teenage brothers were making a silly video in which a 12-inch Godzilla figure stomped all over a city made of Legos. To add a dose of surrealism, the background music for the scene was “Take Five,” this breezy cool-jazz standard that in no way fits a homemade monster feature. I still laugh about it. But I also remembered the song—that undeniable, effortless rhythm, which played a huge role in sparking my own interest in jazz. It’s the essence of cool. The whole album is, right down to the abstract artwork by designer S. Neil Fujita, who created a number of iconic cover designs for Columbia Records in the ’50s, including Charles Mingus’s Mingus Ah Um and Miles Davis’s ’Round About Midnight.

As Time Out turns 60, the San Diego Symphony is celebrating the anniversary as part of its Jazz @ The Jacobs series. Brubeck’s Time Out In Concert will feature a performance of the album, curated by local jazz legend Gilbert Castellanos and featuring pianist Josh Nelson, saxophonist Danny Janklow, bassist Anna Butterss and drummer Joe LaBarbera. And though I’m somewhere between indifferent and cynical about the idea of performing classic albums in their entirety, this is one worth revisiting, especially for those curious about going a little deeper. Jazz isn’t monocultural; it’s not “Hotline Bling” or, god forbid, Toto’s “Africa.” But it’s an endless well of inspiration and exploration, and there are few better places to start than with Time Out.

Brubeck’s Time Out in Concert

February 23

Copley Symphony Hall

Other Recommended Shows

Daniel Romano (February 14 at Soda Bar): Canadian singer-songwriter Daniel Romano’s nascent but productive career finds him unable to sit still, creatively. When I first caught wind of him, he had just released 2013’s Come Cry with Me, a vintage-sounding country album with lots of pedal steel, sweet vocal harmonies, and a portrait of him on the cover in a hat and Nudie suit. Since then he’s mostly left country behind, most recently taking on an atmospheric, psychedelic folk sound for last year’s Finally Free. Whatever he’s playing, or wearing, he pulls it off splendidly.

Half Waif (February 19 at Soda Bar): Though Half Waif’s 2018 album Lavender received a modest amount of acclaim, it still seems slept-on to me. The Brooklyn-based project of Nandi Rose Plunkett is a hauntingly beautiful, atmospheric blend of gorgeous pop songwriting and synth-based production. The end result feels a bit like a more intimate-sounding Kate Bush fed through a filter of Laurie Anderson’s experimental pop, and it’s simply stunning.

Nels Cline (February 19 at The Loft): Most readers probably know Nels Cline as a guitarist in Wilco, but the Los Angeles–born musician released his first album back in 1981 and has spent most of his career playing avant-garde jazz music, spanning from the mellifluous (2016’s gorgeous Lovers) to the utterly chaotic (this year’s What Is to Be Done). As a career ringer with the kind of chops he has, I’d go in expecting anything and everything. Enjoy the ride.

Dave Brubeck’s ‘Time Out’ Is the Essence of Cool

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