Language, Rhythm and Legitimacy Issues: An Examination of Factors Contributing to the Success of Time Out

Hilary Geddes

Abstract


Time Out is an album by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, released in 1959. A commercial hit, it was the first jazz album to sell over 500,000 copies. This success has been primarily accredited to Brubeck’s innovative approach to rhythm, which was deemed to be unprecedented in the jazz world at the time of release. However, a detailed investigation of the social and musical contexts in which Brubeck was situated reveals that there was already precedent for such rhythmic experiments in a jazz environment. Furthermore, contemporaries of Brubeck were concurrently exploring rhythm in similar ways. This paper attempts to examine alternative reasons for the album’s critical acclaim. Such factors include Brubeck’s positionality as a white musician who was associated with the “cool” jazz movement, and the pervasiveness of racially-coded language regarding rhythm in jazz discourse. By deconstructing popular media and critical journals from the twentieth century, one can gain greater insight as to how these aspects helped perpetuate Brubeck’s “clean-cut” image to the public. This, coupled with his engagement with universities and role as cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department, imbued in Brubeck’s music a sense of legitimacy previously not awarded to jazz musicians, and thus differentiated Brubeck from his contemporaries. Moreover, viewing Brubeck’s music through a Eurological framework brings to the fore the lack of “hot” rhythm tropes present on Time Out, which was also a key element in facilitating the album’s mainstream success.

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