1959 was arguably the most transformative year for jazz releases. It was a year of exploration for a genre no longer at the center of American pop music, but at a new peak in critical acclaim. As rock n' roll began dominating the charts in the '50s, driven by an influential consumerist youth culture, jazz moved further into experimental territory -- alienating some listeners while also garnering new audiences worldwide. Albums such as Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus and The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman became instant classics and redefined listeners' palettes. While Davis’ Blue would eventually become the best-selling jazz album of all time, the bigger seller circa 1959 was Time Out from the Dave Brubeck Quartet, which not only became the first jazz LP to sell more than a million copies but boasted the first jazz single to sell more than a million copies with "Take Five."
Released Dec. 14, 1959, Time Out wasn't 39-year-old Brubeck's first album nor was he an unknown at the time of its release. After a handful of moderately successful releases throughout the first half of the decade, mostly targeted toward college students, Brubeck found himself on the front of Time in 1954, making him only the second jazz artist behind Louis Armstrong to grace the cover. Uncomfortable with his fame, Brubeck felt he was only receiving the adoration due to his skin color. His appearance -- that of a middle-class, well-groomed white male -- provided him with a wider appeal to the predominantly white mainstream than leading African American jazz artists like Miles Davis or Duke Ellington. Brubeck refused to use race as a safety net, however; he never stopped working with both white and black musicians for the duration of his career, despite industry pushback.
Prior to recording Time Out in the summer of 1959, Brubeck and his bandmates had no intention of creating a commercially viable record. Only a year prior Brubeck, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello had completed a world tour funded by the United States Department of State, performing 80 concerts in over 14 countries, including Turkey, Poland, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The tour's mission was to showcase American ideals and its racially inclusive sentiments -- a falsity the band would come to experience while traveling domestically in the early '60s. Even so, the band marveled at local musicians while overseas -- particularly Turkish street performers playing traditional folk songs in varying rhythms.