Termagant Tuesday: “Tokyo Traffic,” Dave Brubeck


Classic Brubeck sound meets classic Japanese tonality = super cool.  This song is off the 1964 album “Jazz Impressions of Japan,” and while it obviously draws on international sounds, it wasn’t the first Brubeck record to do so.  That record was “Time Out,” and was released five years earlier in 1959.  The idea for “Time Out” came from a trip Brubeck took around Eurasia in (I believe) the late ’50s, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.  Evidently, he heard a group of musicians in Turkey playing in 9/8 time, filed it away, and came back determined to devote an entire album to odd time signatures – hence the title, “Time Out.”

I know, you’re wondering why I didn’t post a song from that album, and when I’m going to get back to “Tokyo Traffic.”  Hang with me, Tune-Up fans.

Columbia Records was extremely leery of letting Brubeck issue an album only in wacky time signatures and made him do an album of Southern folk standards first.  You know what the biggest hit off of “Time Out” was?  You guessed it – “Take Five.”  That song off that album launched a whole oeuvre of globally-inspired jazz music – Brubeck in Amsterdam, Brubeck in Berlin – which brings us to “Tokyo Traffic.”   (Told you this would all make sense.)

As much as I love “Take Five,” and I adore it (it’s on my Funeral Music list), there’s something really fun and exciting about “Tokyo Traffic.”  It’s the first song off the album so it sounds like his very first day off the plane, wandering around.  Brubeck in the liner notes talks about how overwhelming and wonderful it was to be in Japan, and I feel that when I hear this piece – it’s the musical equivalent of a guy being unable to stop swiveling his head around to look at everything.  It makes me want to travel.

Imagine if the State Department hadn’t organized that trip for Brubeck; that he’d never heard Turkish musicians playing in 9/8 time; that, for whatever reason, the idea of doing an album of odd time signatures hadn’t occurred to him.  No “Take Five,” no “Tokyo Traffic.”  Pretty lame.  And now imagine if way, way more people got out into the world a whole lot more.  One guy wrote “Take Five” – what would you be inspired to do?


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