Like most if not all of my jazz albums, the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out reminds me of my 20s. I was pretty hardcore into jazz back then. I always loved jazz, as I had always loved music in general, but in my 20s I became deeply involved in it thanks to an obsession with Jack Kerouac and the Beats. I drew from jazz the same inspiration as a writer that Ti Jean did, and I wrote hundreds of thousands of words thanks to the music.
I didn’t study jazz as I did rock and roll, so I would never claim to be an expert. And though I would like to be more of an authority on it I am satisfied for now being emotionally and intellectually and creatively moved by jazz music. The albums I loved in my 20s represent more of a general space in time than anything, a frame of mind in which I was happy to exist as a young American woman living an average life in the Cleveland suburbs near the end of the 20th century. My rock and roll soundtrack features more specific turning points for me—not that that is better than what my jazz albums represent, but it’s just different because rock and roll was my first love.
Listening to Time Out for the first time in God knows how many years, I am reminded of how liberating jazz is, especially an experimental album like this. It feels good to hear it, physically good as well as aurally. How many times did I play “Take Five” back then? Thousands. That composition is one of the masterpieces of American music. Everything about it was strange to audiences in 1959. Jazz was changing, music in general was changing. Rock and roll had been a major though controversial force in American popular culture for several years by then, and as 1960 approached many thought (and hoped) that it had run its course. But there were those who felt that this new style of jazz was just as much a bastardization of decent music as rock and roll. Of course, jazz was hated and demonized by proper society in its early days as well. By the time rock and roll came around, however, it was considered more appropriate for white audiences to listen to since many of its new stars were also white. Rock and roll was also borne of black parents, and by 1959 many of its biggest stars were also white.
I bring this up to point out the similarities between jazz and rock and roll. Without one, the other would not exist. Jazz came first, yes, but I would argue that the popularity of rock absolutely influenced jazz musicians to experiment with sounds. The “jungle rhythms” of rock were the same sounds out of which jazz grew, and when rock music became the newest thing among teenagers I think that some jazz artists wanted to figure out what they could do to keep it fresh. African, Middle Eastern, and Asian tempos and instruments were becoming the norm for artists like Dave Brubeck. Rock and roll’s beat obviously has roots in the rhythms brought over by enslaved Africans, and rock was later heavily inspired by the exact same things many jazz musicians had incorporated into their music.
So to me, my love of jazz, though it seems sort of separate in terms of decades of my life, is the same as my love of rock and roll, in that it evolved and influenced me and made me feel the same passion for life and experience. I went from rock and roll to jazz, though I never left any music behind. Everything I love musically leads me to the next music I will love, even though that next music may seem so different from what led me to it. Just like how every little thing you do leads you to the next thing you need to do to get to where you are supposed to be. Every experience is necessary. Every song I’ve ever heard, even if I fucking hate it, is necessary. This album is necessary. And it’s striking to me that it makes me feel happy when I hear it, since when I was first turned on to it I was going through a lot of drama with my best friend. But that’s not really what I think of. I mean, it comes to mind, of course, but the first thing I think is about how I feel now when the first track starts, how at ease it makes me feel. Then I think about how much I used to write when I listened to it over and over and over. I really don’t spend too much time thinking about the bad stuff. On the other hand, I can listen to The Doors’ Strange Days or Nirvana’s Nevermind and think first and foremost about what head space I was in back then before I consider the music itself. Maybe it’s because those songs have lyrics that make me think more specifically about something unpleasant. For whatever reason, the fucked up shit that was going on while I first seriously listened to jazz doesn’t taint the music for me.
An album like this makes me think that I can do anything in life. I can try anything and be happy to have had the experience. Every song on here is perfect. “Take Five” in particular is a revelation. I feel like I’m in a movie when I hear it, a sexy black and white French film from the early 60s where I’m some carefree, much sought-after woman of the world who is just fabulous and sexy and sleeps with everyone she desires. When I was listening to this song back in the day I longed to be such a woman. I became her for a minute, only not in French.
Letting loose as a writer is the same thing as sexual liberation. I always put those things together. Not so much lately, but when I first set out on my journey as a liberated woman I knew they went hand in hand. Don’t be afraid to do something you’ve never done before. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t hold back.
Jazz makes me feel like a writer. I love that.