Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Paul Breitenfeld, 25 November 1924, San Francisco CA; d 30 May 1977, 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.

The album Brubeck Time (1954) opened with a lovely tune called 'Audrey', apparently improvised on the spot, credited to both Brubeck and Desmond. A few days later they came back into the studio and recorded 'Makin' Time', sometimes described as an alternate take or a continuation of 'Audrey'; for this writer it contains one of Desmond's finest solos. It was only ever commercially issued on a Columbia sampler called I Like Jazz, but of course nowadays it can be heard on Youtube.

Desmond's own albums began on Fantasy '54 and 56 (compiled on CD Desmond Blue); quartet set Blues In Time '57 was 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 and Airto: Summertime '68; Crystal Illusions and Bridge Over Troubled Water both '69, both added strings, Water also had Herbie Hancock. Concert At Town Hall '71 with the Modern Jazz Quartet on Finesse was followed by CTI LPs Skylark '73 (octet with two guitars, Carter and 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, later compiled as Like Someone In Love on Telarchive.

Desmond dated a series of beautiful women, who usually went off and married someone from Wall Street: he said that each affair ended not with a whim but with a banker. He was fond of scotch, and 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? Doug Ramsey's biography is called Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. The six-CD Complete Recordings Of The Paul Desmond Quartet With Jim Hall '87 on Mosaic was one of the most beautiful compilations of that year, the RCA tracks also on Bluebird CDs, but now all out of print.

[Ed Bickert, b Vernon BC, d 28 February 2019 in Toronto aged 86, played and recorded with Rosemary Clooney, Ruby Braff, Scott Hamilton and others as well as Desmond, and most of them begged him to tour with them, but he didn't want to tour. He made a dozen albums of his own 1975-2000, and remained Canada's greatest guitarist.]