Friday, December 7, 2012

Dave Brubeck, RIP -- and some musings on odd time signatures

The world of music was saddened by the loss of Dave Brubeck this week. He is best known for "Take Five," which has the honor of still being highest charting jazz piece ever to hit the pop charts. It is also probably the best known "odd time signature" piece in music -- in part because the time signature (5/4) is alluded to in the title of the song. While there are many vintage clips of Brubeck and his quartet playing this song, this is my favorite:

It is my favorite for a quirky reason -- I absolutely love drummer Paul Morello's casual style in which he makes the most complex rhythms seem like he can play them while hardly moving a muscle. But watch him at 2:48 as he casually adjusts his glasses with one hand without missing a beat. Unbelievable.

Jazz is not generally my cup of tea. I really enjoy listening to about one or two songs, and then I am ready to move on to something else. I think it is something that you have to be immersed in at an early age. The old wag about a jazz quartet being an ensemble where 4 guys are each playing a different song at the same time has more than a grain of truth to it.

The beloved came across an interesting note about Brubeck's early life. He was apparently raised on a cattle ranch in rural California and planned a career as a cowboy. A country boy -- gotta love it.

Another of my favorite odd time-signature pieces of Brubeck is also one of his more famous works, "Blue Rondo a la Turk" (mostly in 9/8) alternating between a 2-2-2-3 and a 3-3-3 construction, before going into a swinging 4/4 interlude:

I love quirky time signatures, so how about more modern pieces in those same time signatures? First, one of the smoothest 5/4 pieces around, by someone else who loves to use odd time signatures, made possible by another amazing drummer -- Vinnie Colaiuta. Thanks to the ridiculous Vevo system, I can't give a direct link -- after hitting play, then just keep hitting the "next" icon at the left lower screen until you reach the song "Seven Days" Vinnie has had a storied career, and he has said that his work on this song is in the top 2 or 3 of any song he has recorded:

And for something in 9, how about a (quasi) country song -- also by Sting, and also featuring Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. Johnny Cash actually covered this latter song, although he converted it to a 4/4 song to fit his personal style:

When the beloved and I saw Sting perform in San Francisco last year, I was happy that both of these songs were on his set list, as was one of his 7/8 time songs -- "Love is Stronger Than Justice." Best of all, Vinnie Colaiuta was touring with Sting, so I got to see and hear one of the great drummers of our time.

Enjoy -- but don't try to dance to any of this stuff, since you might end up with muscle spasms...


Tom Balek said...

We saw Vinnie playing with Sting on his big worldwide tour in the early 1990s. It made me a Vinnie Colaiuta fan for life. One of the most amazing unknown musicians ever - thanks for pointing him out.

Joe Morello became blind in his later years and continued to drum, making him one of the very few blind drummers out there. My son is also a totally blind drummer, and is amazing to me. Here's a TV clip of him in high school:

Brad Anderson said...

Great clip of your son. I'll bet you have a great time playing together. Drums would seem to be harder than something like guitar or a keyboard instrument for someone who can't see. What an accomplishment!

That was probably one of Vinnie's first tours with Sting. There are plenty of great Vinnie stories out there, ranging from the amazing to the hilarious. My favorite involves him eating sushi while sight-reading a devilishly difficult chart written by Frank Zappa. It blew everyone's mind.

Vinnie does the same thing of adjusting his glasses in mid-riff as Joe Morello did in this video.

At the concert I went to in SF, there were plenty of cries of "Vinnie" in quiet moments -- he may be unknown to the general public, but there were probably a fair number of drummers and music fans who were there as much to see Vinnie as to see Sting. It was a fantastic concert in an intimate 4000 seat theater, and we had 4th row seats (although we were on the opposite side from where Vinnie was set up -- you can't know these things in advance, of course.)