My toes are tapping.

I can’t get that melody out of my head. Correction. I can’t get that thumping piano out of my head. That rhythmic, steady, constant thumping. In 5/8 time. Now enters the alto sax with the melody. I can’t get either out of my head. Dave Brubeck, this is all your fault.

On the “About” page of this blog, I nonchalantly wrote down that I am a “musician at times”. Nowadays, that means I grab my banged up acoustic and belch a few songs here and there. But back in the day, zero-period jazz band was the real deal (band nerd, yes).

I’d heard “Take Five” before, on NPR’s nightly jazz sessions. It was catchy, addictive, toe-tapping even then. I never thought I’d get a chance to play it, so when I first got the sheet music for the solo sax part, the word “exhilarated” does not serve justice to my ecstatic state of mind. Sure, a self-taught saxophonist (I was a clarinetist by trade) cannot paint this piece with the masterful loftiness it deserves. But I tried mightily. I listened to that track over and over again, first to immerse myself in the breathy tone of the soloist, then to be afloat on the rhythm of 5/8 time. My toes were tapping. Non-stop.

It’s hypnotic, that 5/8. In fashion, the highest compliment on styling is “looking effortless”, or trying without looking like you tried. 5/8 is like that. The underlying rhythm needs to be a constant, steady churn, like an undercurrent, supporting – but not blanketing – whatever that’s going on above. The melody needs to glide, float. Effortlessly, tugging ever so slightly at the end of the phrases. A never-ending push and pull with time. Elastic but not gooey. Elegant but not fluffy like damn cotton candy. Indeed, this is a hard trick. But fear not, that was Brubeck and his crew.

Not witnessing Brubeck, in person, in the midst of doing what he did best, is one regret I will carry for quite some time. No LP, no CD will do justice to the true magic he produced. But he lives on – his rhythms are immortal, his notes are timeless. My toes are still tapping, playing witness to the chunk of life he left behind.

5/8. Wholesome.

RIP Dave Brubeck.

* I do not own the copyright to the incorporated image.

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