American jazz pianist Dave Brubeck in concert in Deauville (Calvados, France) by Roland Godefroy

Every year in the United States, May 4 is informally observed as “Dave Brubeck Day,” recalling the time signature of “Take Five,” arguably Brubeck’s best known recording (although much of the world would argue the holiday should be celebrated on April 5th). Originally recorded in 1959 by the Dave Brubeck Quartet for their album Time Out, the song is renowned for its unorthodox quintuple time (5/4), from which Brubeck derived the name. By 1961 it was the biggest-selling jazz single ever and, in 1996, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Although this jazz classic is usually attributed to Dave Brubeck, “Take Five” was actually composed by Paul Desmond, an alto saxophonist and Brubeck’s long-time musical partner. Nonetheless, every May 4th we pay tribute to Brubeck’s contributions to jazz including his unusual time signatures and his infusion of classical elements into jazz music. For that reason, his style embodied the so-called “West Coast jazz” that developed in California during the 1950’s.

WATCH: Dave Brubeck – Take Five

Brubeck was born in 1920 in Concord, California. His father worked as a cattle rancher, and his mother was as a piano teacher. Although he took piano lessons from his mother as a child, Brubeck initially intended to follow in his father’s footsteps and actually studied veterinary science in college. It was only after encouragement from one of his professors that Brubeck changed his major to music. Interestingly, Brubeck’s poor vision resulted in an inability to sight read, which nearly halted his graduation.

Over his storied 70-year career, Brubeck wrote many songs that would become jazz standards, but he also wrote soundtracks for television and was a composer of orchestral and sacred music. Brubeck believed that jazz has lost some of its more daring qualities, and that he could help shake things up. “It’s time that the jazz musicians take up their original role of leading the public into a more adventurous rhythm,” Brubeck was once quoted as saying. To honor Brubeck’s legacy, it’s only right that musicians use this opportunity to take more risks, draw inspiration from new artists, and gain exposure to new styles and genres.

How are you going to be celebrating Dave Brubeck Day this year? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.


This blog post is part of a series linked to our Music Celebrations Around the World calendar. Download the calendar for access to information about musical celebrations and holidays with strong musical components to share in your music classroom or with your ensemble members! Music + Travel = Encore Tours.

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