Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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DESMOND, Paul

(b Paul Breitenfeld, 25 Nov. '24, San Francisco CA; d 30 May '77, NYC). Alto saxophone. His father played organ in silent cinema orchestras; he was a star in the Dave Brubeck Quartet until it broke up '67; he wrote Brubeck's biggest hit, 'Take Five'. His lyrical style and light, airy tone was admired even by people who were not Brubeck fans; good jazz is seldom so pretty, and pretty jazz seldom has the foundation of musical integrity that he had. His playing was not only beautiful but witty, and the jokes were not only musical but literary, comprehensible only to those who knew the lyrics to the songs. He was one of the most direct and valuable heirs of Lester Young.

His own albums began on Fantasy '54 and 56 (compiled on CD Desmond Blue); quartet set Blues In Time '57 with Gerry Mulligan on Verve; then East Of The Sun '59 on WB (also on Discovery), a quartet with Jim Hall, Percy Heath, Connie Kay. His first LP on RCA '61 had strings, then Two Of A Mind '62 with Kay and Mulligan; quartet tracks with Hall '63--5 were on several RCA LPs; then big-band albums on A&M with Ron Carter, Airto: Summertime '68; Crystal Illusions, Bridge Over Troubled Water both '69, both added strings, Water also had Herbie Hancock. Concert At Town Hall '71 with Modern Jazz Quartet on Finesse was followed by CTI LPs Skylark '73 (octet with two guitars, Carter, Jack DeJohnette), Pure Desmond '74 (quartet with Ed Bickert, Carter and Kay). Paul Desmond Quartet Live was made in Toronto '75 with Bickert on guitar, Don Thompson on bass, Jerry Fuller on drums; tracks appeared on at least three labels, now compiled as Like Someone In Love on Telarchive. Desmond was fond of scotch; when a spot was discovered on his lungs, he was amused that his liver was in perfect working order. He never finished an autobiography, to have been called How Many Of You Are There In The Quartet? Six-disc Complete Recordings Of The Paul Desmond Quartet With Jim Hall '87 on Mosaic was one of the most beautiful compilations of the year, the RCA tracks also on Bluebird CDs.