Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, October 8, 1954
|Birth name||Paul Emil Breitenfeld|
|Also known as||"The Stork"|
November 25, 1924|
San Francisco, California, United States
|Died||May 30, 1977
Manhattan, New York City, United States
|Genres||Cool jazz, West Coast jazz, mainstream jazz|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, composer, arranger|
|Instruments||Alto saxophone, clarinet|
|Labels||Columbia, RCA Victor, Horizon, CTI|
|Associated acts||Dave Brubeck, Ed Bickert, Gerry Mulligan, Jim Hall, Chet Baker|
Paul Desmond (born Paul Emil Breitenfeld; November 25, 1924 – May 30, 1977) was an American jazz alto saxophonist and composer, best known for the work he did in the Dave Brubeck Quartet and for penning that group's greatest hit, "Take Five". He was one of the most popular musicians to come out of the West Coast's cool jazz scene, and the possessor of a legendary and idiosyncratic wit.
In addition to his work with Brubeck, he led several of his own groups and did significant collaborations with artists such as Gerry Mulligan, Jim Hall and Chet Baker. After years of chain smoking and general poor health, Desmond succumbed to lung cancer in 1977 following one last tour with Brubeck.
Desmond was born Paul Emil Breitenfeld in San Francisco, California, in 1924, the son of Shirley (née King) and Emil Aron Breitenfeld. His father was from a Jewish family from Bohemia and Austria, and his mother was Catholic; throughout his life, Desmond was unsure of his father's background. His father was an organist who accompanied silent films in movie theaters. His mother was emotionally unstable throughout his upbringing. During childhood he spent years living with relatives in New York City due to problems at home. Desmond began playing violin at an early age, though his father forbade him to play it.
Desmond began to study clarinet at the age of twelve at San Francisco Polytechnic High School. It was not until he became a freshman at San Francisco State College that he picked up the alto saxophone. In his first year Desmond was drafted into the United States Army and joined the Army band while stationed in San Francisco. He spent three years in the military, but his unit was never called to combat.
Following the conclusion of World War II, Desmond started working in Palo Alto, California, at the Bandbox. He also worked with Brubeck at the Geary Cellar in San Francisco. Desmond soon hired Brubeck, but cut his pay in half and then replaced him altogether after taking him along to Graeagle at The Feather River Inn for gigs; this was done so Desmond could gamble in nearby Reno. In 1950 Desmond left for New York City playing alto and clarinet for Jack Fina, but returned to California after hearing Brubeck's trio on the radio.
The story of their encounter is somewhat humorous. Brubeck—married with three children and holding a grudge from his earlier experience with Desmond—instructed his wife, Iola, not to let him set foot in his house. However, Desmond came to his home in San Francisco one day while Dave was out back hanging diapers on a laundry line, and Iola let him in and took him to Brubeck. Apparently all the begging in the world would not convince Brubeck to hire him, at least not until Desmond offered to babysit Brubeck's children.
Dave Brubeck Quartet
Desmond had first met Dave Brubeck in 1944 while still in the military. Brubeck was trying out for the 253rd Army band which Desmond belonged to. After making the cut he—unlike Desmond—was sent to war in 1944. Desmond once told Marian McPartland of National Public Radio's Piano Jazz that he was taken aback by the chord changes Brubeck introduced during that 1944 audition. After convincing Brubeck to hire him following his stint with Jack Fina, the two had a contract drafted (of which Brubeck was the sole signatory); the language forbade Brubeck from ever firing him, ensured Brubeck's status as group leader, and gave Desmond twenty percent of all profits generated from the quartet. That is how the Dave Brubeck Quartet had its start, a group that began in 1951 and ended in December 1967. The quartet became especially popular with college-age audiences, often performing in college settings like on their ground-breaking 1953 album Jazz at Oberlin at Oberlin College, or on their recordings on the campuses of Ohio University and the University of Michigan, among others. The success of the quartet led to a Time magazine piece on them in 1954, with the famous cover featuring Brubeck's face. The group played until 1967, when Brubeck switched his musical focus from performance to composition and broke the unit up. During the 1970s Desmond joined Brubeck for several reunion tours, including "Two Generations of Brubeck". Accompanying them were Brubeck's sons Chris Brubeck, Dan Brubeck and Darius Brubeck. In 1976 Desmond played 25 shows in 25 nights with Brubeck, touring the United States in several cities by bus.
In June 1969 Desmond appeared at the New Orleans Jazz Festival with Gerry Mulligan, procuring favorable reactions from critics and audience members. During Brubeck's Two Generations tours, Desmond and Mulligan shared the stage together in 1974. Unlike Brubeck, Mulligan personally shared much in common with Desmond. The two shared similar interests and humor, and both men had no shortage of addictions in their lives.
After some time spent inactive, Desmond was asked to play the Half Note in New York City in 1971 by guitarist Jim Hall. With his special brand of humor, Desmond said that he took the job only because he was nearby and could tumble out of bed to work. The two continued to play at the club to jam-packed audiences. Desmond also joined The Modern Jazz Quartet for a Christmas concert in 1971 at the New York Town Hall.
Desmond recorded the tune "Summertime" along with many others during his time with Chet Baker.
Desmond met Canadian guitarist Ed Bickert through Hall in Toronto, Canada and began performing with him at several clubs in the Toronto area. Bickert played in the Paul Desmond Quartet at the Edmonton Jazz Festival, and they recorded several albums together.
In their private lives Dave Brubeck and his family were very close to Paul Desmond, though the two men possessed very different personalities. Darius Brubeck recalls thinking that Desmond was his uncle almost into adolescence. Desmond grew especially close to Dave's son Michael, to whom he left his saxophone upon death. Desmond also was never able to hold down steady relationships with women, though he had no shortage of them. Desmond is reported to have quipped, upon seeing a former girlfriend on the street, "There she goes, not with a whim but a banker" (a Spoonerism reference to T.S. Eliot's "This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper"). In contrast, Brubeck was a stalwart family man.
Desmond was quite well-read and retained a unique wit. He enjoyed reading works by the thinkers of his generation like Timothy Leary and Jack Kerouac, also dabbling in some LSD usage. He was known to have several addictions, including Dewar's Scotch whisky and Pall Mall cigarettes. His chemical-dependency problems would sometimes drain him of his energy on the road. Clarinetist Perry Robinson recalls in his autobiography that Desmond would sometimes need a vitamin B12 shot just to go on playing during his later career.
Desmond died on May 30, 1977, not of his heavy alcohol habit but of lung cancer, the result of his longtime heavy smoking. Never without his humor, after he was diagnosed with cancer he expressed pleasure at the health of his liver. His last concert was with Brubeck in February 1977, in New York City. His fans did not know that he was already dying. Desmond specified in his will that all proceeds from "Take Five" would go to the Red Cross following his death. Desmond reportedly owned a Baldwin grand piano, which he loaned to Bradley Cunningham, owner of Bradley's piano bar in Greenwich Village, with the condition that Cunningham had to move the large piano back to Desmond's Upper West Side apartment to become part of Desmond's estate. After this long and expensive process, Desmond willed the piano to Cunningham, a characteristic and final prank. The Paul Desmond Papers are held at the Holt-Atherton Special Collections in the University of the Pacific Library.
Desmond was cremated and his ashes were scattered.
Desmond had a light melodic tone when playing the alto saxophone that is similar to the style of Lee Konitz, one of his influences. He was able to achieve particularly high notes, called altissimo, becoming one of the best-known players from the West Coast's cool school of jazz. Much of the success of the classic Brubeck quartet was due to the juxtaposition of his airy style over Brubeck's sometimes relatively heavy, polytonal piano work. His gift for improvised counterpoint is perhaps most notable on the two albums he recorded with Mulligan (Mulligan-Desmond Quartet and Two of a Mind). He said he tried to sound "like a dry martini."
Desmond played a Selmer Super Action model alto saxophone (which was the immediate predecessor of the Selmer Mk VI) with an M. C. Gregory model 4A-18M mouthpiece—both dating from circa 1951—with Rico 3 ½ reeds.
|1950||The Dave Brubeck Octet||Dave Brubeck||Fantasy Records|
|1951||Brubeck/Desmond||Dave Brubeck||Fantasy Records|
|1951||Jazz at Storyville||Dave Brubeck||Fantasy Records|
|1951||Modern Complex Dialogues||Dave Brubeck||Alto Records|
|1951||How Long, Baby How Long, Pt. 1&2||Jack Sheedy||Coronet Records|
|1951||The Man I Love c/w Down in Honkytonk Town||Jack Sheedy||Coronet|
|1952||Jazz at the Blackhawk||Dave Brubeck||Fantasy|
|1952||The Dave Brubeck Quartet||Dave Brubeck||Fantasy|
|1953||Jazz at Oberlin||Dave Brubeck||Fantasy|
|1953||Jazz at the College of the Pacific||Dave Brubeck||Fantasy|
|1954||Dave Brubeck at Storyville 1954||Dave Brubeck||Columbia Records|
|1954||Jazz Goes to College||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1954||Brubeck Time||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1954||Gerry Mulligan/Paul Desmond||Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan||Fantasy|
|1955||Jazz: Red Hot And Cool||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1955||Chet Baker Quartet Plus: The Newport Years, Vol. 1||Chet Baker||Philology Records|
|1956||The Paul Desmond Quartet With Don Elliott||Paul Desmond||Fantasy|
|1956–57||Dave Brubeck Quartet Live in 1956-57 Featuring Paul Desmond||Dave Brubeck||Jazz Band|
|1956||Live From Basin Street||Dave Brubeck||Jazz Band|
|1956||Jazz Impressions of U.S.A.||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1957||Reunion||Dave Brubeck w/ Dave Van Kriedt||Fantasy|
|1957||Jazz Goes to Junior College||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1957||Dave Digs Disney||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1957||Blues in Time||Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan||Verve Records|
|1958||In Europe||Dave Brubeck Quartet||Columbia|
|1958||Newport 1958||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1958||Jazz Impressions of Eurasia||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1959||Gone with the Wind||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1959||Time Out||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1959||St. Louis Blues||Dave Brubeck||Moon Records|
|1959||First place Again!||Paul Desmond||Warner Bros. Records|
|1960||Southern Scene||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1960||Brubeck and Rushing||Dave Brubeck w/ Jimmy Rushing||Columbia|
|1960||Bernstein Plays Brubeck Plays Bernstein||Dave Brubeck w/ Leonard Bernstein||Columbia Records|
|1960||Tonight Only w/ Carmen McRae||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1961||Time Further Out||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|61, 63, 64||The Complete Recordings of the Paul Desmond Quartet With Jim Hall||Paul Desmond||Mosaic Records|
|1961||Take Five||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1961||Desmond Blue||Paul Desmond||RCA Victor|
|1962||Countdown - Time in Outer Space||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1962||Bossa Nova U.S.A.||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1962||Brandenburg Gate Revisited||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1962||Late Lament||Paul Desmond||RCA/Bluebird Records|
|1962||Two of a Mind||Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan||RCA Victor|
|1962||Brubeck in Amsterdam||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1963||At Carnegie Hall||Dave Brubeck Quartet||Columbia|
|1963||Take Ten||Paul Desmond||RCA Victor|
|63, 64, 65||Easy Living||Paul Desmond||RCA Victor|
|1963||Glad to Be Unhappy||Paul Desmond||RCA Victor|
|1963||Time Changes||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1964||Jazz Impressions of Japan||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1964||Jazz Impressions of New York||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1964||In Concert 1964||Dave Brubeck||Jazz Connoisseur|
|1964||Bossa Antigua||Paul Desmond||RCA Victor|
|1964||Dave Brubeck in Berlin||Dave Brubeck||Columbia Records|
|1965||The Canadian Concert of Dave Brubeck||Dave Brubeck||Can-Am Records|
|1965||Angel Eyes||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1965||My Favorite Things||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1965||Time In||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1966||Anything Goes!||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1966||The Quartet||Dave Brubeck||Europa Jazz|
|1967||Bravo! Brubeck!||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1967||Buried Treasures||Dave Brubeck||Columbia/Legacy|
|1967||Take Five Live||Dave Brubeck||Jazz Music Yesterday|
|1967||The Last Time We Saw Paris||Dave Brubeck||Columbia|
|1969||From the Hot Afternoon||Paul Desmond||A&M/CTI|
|1969||Bridge Over Troubled Water||Paul Desmond||A&M/CTI|
|1971||The Only Recorded Performance of Paul Desmond With the Modern Jazz Quartet||Paul Desmond||Finesse Records|
|1972||We're All Together Again for the First Time||Dave Brubeck/Gerry Mulligan/Paul Desmond||Atlantic Records|
|1973||Skylark||Paul Desmond||CTI Records|
|1973||Giant Box||Don Sebesky||CTI|
|1974||She Was Too Good to Me||Chet Baker||CTI|
|1974||Pure Desmond||Paul Desmond||CTI|
|1975||Like Someone in Love||Paul Desmond||Telarc Records|
|1975||1975: The Duets||Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond||Horizon Records|
|1975||The Paul Desmond Quartet Live||Paul Desmond||Horizon|
|1976||At Bourbon Street, Toronto 10/75||Paul Desmond||Artists House|
|1976||25th Anniversary Reunion||Dave Brubeck||Horizon|
|1977||You Can't Go Home Again||Chet Baker||Horizon|
|1977||The Best Thing for You||Chet Baker||A&M|
- "The Milwaukee Sentinel – May 31, 1977 – Jazz Musician Paul Desmond Dies at Age 52 – Google News Archive". News.google.com. May 31, 1977. Retrieved 2012-06-25.
- Doyle, Brian (2004). Spirited Men: Story, Soul, and Substance. Cowley Publications. pp. 73–74. ISBN 1-56101-258-0.
- Smith, Hedrick (June 4, 2007). "Dave on Paul Desmond and the Quartet".
- Lees, Gene (2001). Cats of Any Color: Jazz Black and White. Da Capo Press. pp. 55–57. ISBN 0-306-80950-8.
- Martin, Henry (2004). Essential Jazz: The First 100 Years. Thomson Wadsworth. p. 314. ISBN 0-534-63810-4.
- Robinson, Perry (2002). Perry Robinson: The Traveler. iUniverse. pp. 190–191. ISBN 0-595-21538-6.
- "Paul Desmond-isms". Retrieved 2013-09-22.
- Owens, Thomas (1995). Bebop: The Music and Its Players. Oxford University Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-19-510651-2.
- Ramsey, Doug (2005). Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. Seattle: Parkside Publications. pp. 102, 118, 216, 292. ISBN 0-9617266-7-9.
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