The Indian sitarist & drummer behind Take Five

Dave Brubeck, the pianist in the quartet that gave Take Five to the world and “made jazz music popular again” is gone. On his outstanding website, Taj Mahal Fox Trot, the jazz aficionado and journalist Naresh Fernandes writes of how India may have played a hand in one of the world’s most identified jazz numbers.




Ever since the tune was released in 1959, Indian jazz musicians have maintained that Take Five was the direct result of a lesson Indian jazz drummer Leslie Godinho gave Brubeck’s percussionist Joe Morello in a hotel room in Delhi in 1958.

Godinho, the story goes, taught Morello how to play the 5/4 time signature that is the foundation of Take Five….

Last year, I had the opportunity to interview Brubeck, thanks to the good offices of the excellent Nalini Jones. We spoke on the weekend of his ninetieth birthday and, most understandably, the pianist was a little hazy about the specific details of his subcontinental tour more than five decades earlier.

But he did recall that Morello was a big hit with the crowds.

Between their concerts, Brubeck and his musicians sat in with Indian jazzmen who played regularly in the restaurants that lined Churchgate Street (now Veer Nariman Road).

One evening, they jammed with the sitar Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan in the Malabar Hill home of the industrialist Pralhad Mehta, whose saxophone-playing son Nakul generously gave me this photo.


Brubeck later described the encounter in the liner notes of one of his albums:

“The Indian musical tradition is far different from ours. It emphasises intricate rhythms and pure melody without harmony. We jazz musicians do have one element in common with the Indian musician – and that is improvisation. We were extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to ‘sit in’ with some of India’s best musicians. Of notable success was our attempt ‘to jam’ with Abdul Jaffer Khan on sitar and various Indian tabla players. We all left that given a few more days, we would either be playing Indian music or they would be playing jazz.”

In an interview with Jazz Journal International years later, Brubeck acknowledged again that his encounter with Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan had significantly changed the way he approached his music.

“His influence made me play in a different way,” the pianist said. “Although Hindu scales, melodies and harmonies are different, we understood each other…The folk origins of music aren’t far apart anywhere in the world.”

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The best Indian theme music of all time. Period.