Reading the scholarly literature on Dave Brubeck's funky time signatures
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TO THE NAKED EYE, IT MAY APPEAR THAT: Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, who died Wednesday, will be remembered for recording one of the most beloved jazz melodies of its era: 1959's distinctive, serpentine "Take Five," which was written by Brubeck's collaborator Paul Desmond (well, maybe it was a joint effort) and performed by their band, The Dave Brubeck Quartet.
BUT ACCORDING TO SOME EXPERTS WHO THOUGHT REALLY HARD ABOUT THIS: There's another reason why the popularity of "Take Five" is remarkable: It's performed in a musical structure that people in the Western world often show cognitive resistance to.
Most Western music is dependent on a structure with two, three, or four beats in a measure—or some multiple of those—with even spaces between the emphasized beats. As Justin London, a music professor at Carleton College, puts it in "How to Talk About Musical Metre," "Western music theory, from the 19th century through Lerdahl and Jackendoff (1983) has presumed meter to be inherently isochronous." In other words, when you tap your foot to a common piece of Western music, be it one by Katy Perry or Tchaikovsky, your taps will have regular time intervals between them.