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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.

There was once a time when notes meant something to me.

The anticipation before the lifting of the baton,

The intake of breath, deep, like filling a jug from its depths.

The nerves in my fingertips tingling, poised, just enough perspiration.

The empty space between the notes, that’s what music is,

The push and pull, the manipulation of time, ever so slightly.

The melody soars, like clouds amongst clouds,

The chill that runs through my spine, in the most pleasant of ways.

The relief, the calm while holding that last note, that last chord,

The crowd hushed, as the last breath of air evaporates away.

The satisfaction.

And I wonder. Will this be the last serenade.

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