Monday, August 1, 2011


In 1959, the Dave Brubeck Quartet released Time Out, featuring jazz songs which experimented in use of alternative time signatures. Included on this album was the song that was to become the quartet's signature tune, "Take Five", with its mesmerizing 5/4 beat. The album was wildly successful, propelling the well-known quartet into the national limelight of jazz stardom.  

Behind that signature song sits a signature human activity. Rest. Settle into an easy chair. It will only take five minutes or so to finish reading this little essay. Nothing to it. Take five. As a jazz pianist, I’ve attempted many times to play Take Five, a song easier to hear than to play. For a while, in graduate school, I played with a great drummer who had the 5/4 beat down. As a result, I was able to settle myself into the offbeat piano jazz vamp of Take Five and enjoy some 5/4 improvisations of my own. 

Taking time off is a common offbeat activity for many humans. As a culture, we usually evaluate our worth by what we produce or by what we do. One of the first questions asked between strangers is “What do you do?” with the answer revolving around our jobs or careers. Even when the question is more generic, such as “Tell me about yourself”, we find ourselves describing our professions, ‘what we do for a living’, as the way we speak about our identity to others. 

When we do take time off, we often fill our weekends with physical activities or home chores, allowing ourselves little time to “take five”. The phrase “take five” refers to more than merely napping on Saturday afternoon during a football game on television. It involves stepping intentionally into a whole new way of living, an offbeat, alternative approach to life that allows for “time-off” in the middle of activity. 

Take five. In other words, stop doing. Let the music play on, and just kick back and listen. Take some time to reflect, to rest, to settle down inside. While the instrumentalists play on, enjoy the echo of the words you’ve just been singing to repeat their phrases inwardly, to penetrate your soul and do their wonderful work in you while you do no work at all. It’s a whole new way of living. Selah. A word stuck right in the middle of many Psalms, a word scholars believe simply means, "take five".

Right in the middle of a business management meeting, hear that song inside your soul. Take a slow breath and rest. While on the cell phone, speeding down the interstate on your way to the next appointment, hear that haunting offbeat melody calling you to rest. Take Five. Try turning off the cell phone, relax your shoulders and take Brubeck’s wisdom to heart, literally.

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