Take Five, Again

December 8, 2012

As I write this, jazz great Dave Brubeck has been dead for just a day.

He died just a day shy of his 92nd birthday, and his life covered most of the history of jazz itself.

I don’t consider myself a big fan of jazz, though I like some of it well enough.

For his iconic tune, Take Five, however,I always pause and give a listen, if I can. It was the sound track of my heart’s first great adventure, after all.

Take Five was certainly an easy listen.

Take Five was a musical milestone — a deceptively complex jazz composition that managed to crack the Billboard singles chart and introduce a new, adventurous sound to millions of listeners, read an Associated Press story on Brubeck’s passing.

Oddly, record company executives dithered a whole year before releasing Brubeck’s seminal album, Time Out, in part because the tracks on the album, including Take Five, were done outside of the usual ¾ or 4/4 time. The “suits” figured people would not buy the record because it would be hard to dance to.

I say “oddly” because Take Five is the only tune I can remember dancing to.

Dancing itself is something that has always mystified me, and dancers leave me in awe.

When I go to parties where people dance, I have to go through my usual embarrassing routine of explaining that, no, I do not want to dance, thank you very much.

It is not that I hate dancing. The fact is that I hate to dance. Dance is fine, as long as I am not the one doing it.

Nothing pleases me more than to go somewhere and see a person or a couple who dance as though born to it. It is a thing of art, a thing mastered that I myself do not have to master to appreciate. After all, I can enjoy a painting without knowing how to paint.

Though I have never loved dancing, that is not to say that I have never danced, let it not be said that I have never danced. Oh, no, I danced earnestly, with great determination, and for love. That is where Take Five came into my life.

See, I took lessons.

It was not my idea. My well-meaning parents foisted the instruction on me because they were concerned that my social development would wither if I did not have whatever dances were popular in the mid-1960s in my social armory.

I protested without any great enthusiasm, because I knew what my folks were like when they made up their minds. I figured I would do so badly that they would be OK when I quit soon after starting.

Then, I met the teacher.

It was love at first sight, and for the very first time.

People laugh at kids who fall in love at 14.  That is a mistake. Love at that age has no governor, no limits. It is like a caged bear, or a fire in an oil refinery.

So, there I was, with a skin become a minefield of tiny volcanoes and a voice that bounded from a passable baritone into the reaches of the ultrasonic without a moment’s notice. I tripped over invisible barriers when I walked. Every flub convinced me that I was the world’s greatest fool and the kindest thing would be to take me out behind the garage and shoot me.

In other words, I was a typical teen.

Joan, on the other hand, was an older woman, about 20, with dark red hair, freckles, and eyes of a rich, deep hazel. She wore a black body stocking and smelled of talcum powder. A dance major at the university, she earned extra money teaching ballroom dancing and ballet in the back room of a construction company office near my home.

Sometimes, I would arrive early, while she was still putting a gaggle of shrill little girls through their ballet lessons. She moved the way good poetry sounds, like tall grass on a breezy day.

The girls moved like chickens.

Watching Joan was a little like….well, I still cannot describe it. Sure, she was attractive, but her movements were not so much provocative as evocative, and inevitable, is some wonderful way. I could but watch, and try to remember to breathe.

Eventually, the little girls would be gone, and it would be my turn.

Joan would put the needle down on Brubeck’s Take Five, and she would move out onto the dance floor like a swan, beckoning me to follow. I would trudge out, a lovesick buffalo, hopeless and enthralled, my palms sweating. She danced, I clicked along like some hapless wind-up toy gone to rust, feet moving mechanically, taking exactly the right steps in the worst possible way, the overhead lights reflecting gaily off my orthodontics.

She taught me, or tried to, slow dances, too, but I cannot remember a thing about any other music she played then because I could not hear it over the pounding of my heart and the roaring in my ears. I only remember standing that close to her, and how good she smelled, and how she only smiled when, inevitably, I stepped on one of her feet.

My parents were shocked when I asked to continue my dancing lessons. I must have gone on for months. They never knew that I would have asked the same thing if Joan had been coaching algebra.

Such is love.

It ended of course.

One night as the lesson was beginning; she told me it would be my last.

She was going away to get married.

We dipped and reeled to slow dances for the whole hour. The industrial lighting of the room seemed an awful lot like chandeliers.

That is how I chose to remember it, anyway.

And so, I do not dance, thank you very much. But now and then, when I walk into a room and see people moving like wheat in a summer wind, I check the air for the scent of talcum.

And always, when I hear Take Five.

Rest in peace, Mr. Brubeck.

 

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© 2012 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

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