The Wizard Of Odd: Joe Morello
A Long Warm Up
Later is right — much later. Brubeck described the situation as an armistice between the two, but it was more akin to a tense ceasefire. In a New Yorker profile of the quartet, Robert Rice wrote, “... bloody war was likely to rage whenever the quartet played, with Brubeck doing his best to mediate between Morello on the one hand and Bates and Desmond on the other.”
Morello easily conquered polyrhythms and the unorthodox time signatures that Brubeck was determined the quartet would master. A standard observation among drummers was that Morello’s feet were a touch faster than Buddy Rich’s. Morello had made it clear that he was not going to hide his formidable technique beneath a bushel. Brubeck could not have agreed more. Desmond’s standard for drumming matched Lester Young’s -— “Just a little tinky-boom. No bombs, Prez.” That dream seemed to be over.
Bates recalls the atmosphere on the stand: “Now, they’ve got Joe Morello,” Bates said, “and he rapidly adjusted himself away from the very well-integrated, consistent piano of Marian McPartland, but, without that as a model, he didn’t know what to do. Joe had to learn how to adapt himself by not participating in Dave’s excursions. So, we found Joe, during Dave’s solos, studying the ceiling while knitting softly with a pair of brushes until it was his time to shine, which was a solo. Well, when he’d catch Paul playing a repeating phrase of some kind that had some rhythm content to it, some simple pattern, Joe, as soon as he recognized the pattern, would join right in and play something that was in his mind appropriate and called for. Paul didn’t like that at all,” Bates said. “He didn’t want to be shoved, or muscled, or bound, or confined.”
“For a while it was uncomfortable with Paul,” Morello remembered. “But as time went on, it worked out. We became very close and used to hang out together. The last four or five years we hung out quite a lot, actually.” Morello’s phrasing and inflection were uncannily like Desmond’s when he said that.
“I think the world of Paul, “Morello said. “No, it was more than that. I loved the guy.”
The Infamous “Take Five”
After “Take Five” became one of the most familiar pieces of music in the world, Desmond tired of questions about it and amused himself by concocting stories of the piece’s origins. His favorite version linked it with his gambling habit. He told people that he was inspired by the rhythmic sounds that slot machines make — down, back, click-click-click.
“Have you ever heard that?” Brubeck says, laughing. “I read that somewhere and I said, ‘Come on, Paul, no.’ It was Joe Morello who gave him that rhythm.”
Morello said that in concert he used to go into 5/4 time in the drum break of a Brubeck piece called “Sounds Of The Loop,” which the group recorded in 1956 on Jazz Impressions Of The USA.
“I’d just mess around in five,” Morello said. “Go from 5/4 to 7/4, and I guess they hadn’t heard that kind of thing before, so I kept saying, ‘Come on, Dave, why don’t you write something in 5/4?’ He never did, so Paul said one night, ‘Oh, s__t, I’ll write something.’ We were rehearsing up at Dave’s house one time, and Paul came in with that. So, we recorded the thing in the studio at Columbia, and I think it was the first take or the second take, and Dave was playing the vamp. I got more comments on that darn drum solo. I hear it every day somewhere, so it was a very lucky thing. It was my idea. Everybody made a lot of money but me.”
The same summer that the Brubeck group recorded “Take Five,” drummer Max Roach’s quintet was playing a 5/4 blues called “As Long As You’re Living.” They recorded it for Mercury Records a few days after the Brubeck Time Out session. Members of the Roach band have accused Morello, Brubeck, and Desmond of stealing the idea when both bands were playing a festival in Detroit. As for why the Brubeck record became a massive hit and Roach’s did not, Roach’s tenor saxophonist, Stanley Turrentine, told writer Ben Young, “It seems like they held our record back, and put that ‘Take Five’ out there, man, before they put out ‘As Long As You’re Living.’ His scenario ignores the commercial reality that when it comes to sales, major record companies do not collude; they compete.
Roach’s bassist, Bob Boswell, came closer to the answer: “The only thing that I could say, and not being derogatory about it, was the fact that Brubeck’s tune wasn’t as involved as ours. Ours was based on a 5/4 blues,” Boswell told Young, “but his was based on just a couple of chords. They played the head of the tune, and then they let the head of it go. And they stayed right on those changes. They stayed right on the vamp in 5/4 and played off of that vamp. But see, ours was based on the entire blues, and we played off the whole blues, the 5/4. So ours may have been a little more intricate for the public at that time, and the public snapped his up because it was a little more simple to grasp.”
“Take Five”’s popularity came as a surprise to everyone involved; Desmond, who composed it; Morello, who inspired it; Brubeck, who, as Morello requested, “kept that vamp going”; bassist Eugene Wright, who loved playing in 5/4; and, most of all, Columbia Records, which hated the idea until the company realized that it had been looking a prize-winning gift horse in the mouth.
“We are innocent of trying to make a hit record,” Brubeck told DownBeat. “When I get most skeptical about so-called popular music, and the public, and the radio stations, I think about “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo” and feel that the public can go for some pretty good things.”