Dave Brubeck Quartet and Carmen McRae: Take Five

Written by Laura Lee Everett

OPERA America

In category: Song of the Day

Published July 8, 2016

I’ve got one more anthem for you. Jazz is the most originally American style of music and if there is a jazz tune that everyone identifies with that genre, it is “Take Five”, written by alto sax man Paul Desmond and performed by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.


Originally released in 1959, it was two years later when they re-released the song that it took off and remains the biggest selling jazz single of all time. It has been used in dozens of films, tv shows, theme songs, and remains one of the most played tunes on jazz radio stations.

McRaeInfluenced by Bulgarian and Turkish street rhythms that they experienced while on a State Department tour of Eurasia, Brubeck and Desmond played with incorporating the 9/8 syncopation and minor keys they heard while overseas. It is sexy, flirty, sultry music, where you can almost see the lights dim, the room fill with smoke, and here the rocks clinking in the cocktail coming your way.

But did you know the song had sultry lyrics to match the tune?

Carmen McRae recorded the 1961 version with the quartet and her dark, edgy sound, gives the song a completely different feel.

Upon his death in 1977, Paul Desmond left the performing rights royalties to “Take Five” and all of his compositions to the American Red Cross. To date, the Red Cross receives approximately $100,000 per year from Mr. Desmond’s bequest.

Here he is, playing that piece which is the signature of what great jazz can be, both the 1959 recording and a groovy live performance from the same era. Sit back, pour a cocktail and ease into your weekend.

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Laura Lee Everett is the Director of Artistic Services at OPERA America. She’s had a long and varied career in opera—stage managing, mentoring young artists, facilitating the creation of new works, and more—at companies all across the U.S., from Alaska to Virginia. 


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