Art

Paul Desmond:  A Life Told in Pictures, Music and Memories

Paul Desmond:  A Life Told in Pictures, Music and
Memories

from

Take
Five:  The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond

by

Doug Ramsey

desmondbook

Doug Ramsey’s biography of saxophonist Paul Desmond is a lavish, detailed
work of art, filled with photographs, letters, and memories of a complex
and frequently inspiring life. Paul Desmond:  A Life Told in Pictures,
Music and Memories
, a Jerry Jazz Musician production published in cooperation
with Ramsey and Parkside Publications, features photographs and excerpts
from the book, as well as sound samples of Desmond’s music.

*

For details on how to purchase the book, visit the
Parkside Publications
web site.

Read a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with Doug Ramsey

______________________________________________________

photo Paul Desmond Collection

Paul Desmond, c. 1960

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“The qualities in music which I considered most important — and still
do — were beauty, simplicity, originality, discrimination, and sincerity.”

– Paul Desmond

_____

Take Ten

______________________________________________________

Desmond’s autobiography, found in his files after he died

_____

desmond, paul, life & times of:

Born in San Francisco.  Grew up (reluctantly) in Berkeley, Brooklyn,
New Rochell.  Back to high school in SF (Polytechnic) where quickly
became conspicuous acc’t  didn’t play football or fix cars.  Took
up clarinet so as to get into ROTC band.  Wild deal.  Got you out
of all kind of chores.

Then came war.  Went into 253 AGF band, organization notably befeft
of any jazz type talent except for old David Van Kriedt.  He introduced
me to Brubeck, who was passing thru forlornly on way overseas as rifleman
(one of very few riflemen, whould add, to end up in Herman Goering’s bed,
with his own band, a ballet co., and the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes
— all of which is of course another story:  when we met he was just
rifleman).  First conversation quite brief:  “Wow, man, too much,
like, nutty changes, dad, the end wig, you know?”  “White man speak
with forked tongue.”

Out of army in 1946, married shortly after, starved quietly for several years.
 Music major at SF State for six months till saw error of ways, switched
to English.  Musical education since then mainly listening to records,
looking over piano-players’ shoulders.  More fun that way.  Continued
starving quietly thru 1950 (brief interlude working with Dave and Norm Bates
in 1949 at small clue near Stanford = = = musically the end, with much
promis(sic) of what we could maybe do someday if we could ever figure out
where, but didn’t change starvation bit much.  $46.50 wk?  For
the leader?)  Loving wife left quietly in 1949, happily divorced
since then.

During momentary fit of depression in 1950 (It was July and only jobs so
far had been two jazz concerts, one Mexican wedding) went on road with Jack
Fina.  Brrrrrr.  Came back in Nov., sat in with Dave whenever possible.
 Got on steady following summer.  Since then things have been just
fine.

photo Breitenfeld Family Collection

Paul Desmond

*

“Paul can now crawl very fast and yesterday crawled from the living through
the dining room, kitchen and hall, but usually of course we don’t like him
to be on the floor except on a blanket or in his coop…He doesn’t care much
for the coop, and instead of playing in it he pulls himself up at the rail
and complains bitterly against being left alone.”

– Desmond’s father Emil

photo Breitenfeld Family Collection

Desmond’s parents, Emil and Shirley Britenfeld, 1933

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“By the time Paul was eight, his mother was so bad that, for some reason
we never figured out, his father Emil, whom Paul adored, decided that he
really had to be out of the house because Mom was too ill.  I was never
told anything persuasive about why Emil called his three siblings in New
York to say, ‘I have to send Paul to you while I get this woman treated.”

– Desmond’s cousin Rick Breitenfeld

photo Breitenfeld Family Collection

Desmond, age 12 or 13

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“I am getting along swell in music.  I think I stand a slight chance
of (being) put in a higher class.  I have the same books I had with
you,
Singing and Playing and The 1st Melody Book.  I got
several extra pieces, also.  When you get 10 stars you get a prize,
and I have about 14 of them, but the music teacher forgot to get the
prize.”

– Desmond, in a letter to his father

photo Breitenfeld Family Collection

Desmond in the Polytechnic High School Band

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” [When Desmond entered San Francisco’s Polytechnic High]…writing was
still on his mind.  He would pursue it at Polytech, but he was surrounded
by and fascinated with music.  His active musical existence was narrowly
concentrated in piano and clarinet lessons, but the harmonic knowledge he
had acquired by osmosis during his first eight years in Emil Breitenfeld’s
house inhabited his mind and spirit.”

– Doug Ramsey

photo Breitenfeld Family Collection

“The two people who hugely influenced the way Paul ended up playing were
Lester Young – -for his soft palette, so to speak — and Artie Shaw, for
his lyricism.”

– Childhood friend Hal Strack

_____

Just You, Just Me, by Lester Young

My Blue Heaven, by Artie Shaw

photo Breitenfeld Family Collection

Desmond and wife Duane, 1946

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“I don’t remember a big deal of getting engaged.  We were sort of
fairy-taleing it.  He loved love stories.  He loved love, as such,
and I think marriage fit whatever criteria, or most of the criteria, he had.
 He gave me a ring.  It isn’t like I was pregnant.  I was
still a virgin.  Yeah…He was my first.”

– Duane Lamon

photo Brubeck Institute

The Dave Brubeck Octet at the Blackhawk, San Francisco, 1950

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“[Darius] Milhaud liked our music…He loved Kriedt’s
Fugue On Bop Themes

.’  He said it was a wonderful example of a real fugue,
written in a jazz style.  He was as strict as could be about counterpoint.
 You had to follow his rules, which were Bach’s rules.”

– Dave Brubeck

_____

Love Walked In , by the Dave Brubeck Octet

photo Francis Lynne and John Coppola
Collection

Norman Bates, Desmond, Brubeck and Francis Lynne at the Band Box, 1949

*

“‘Paul considered himself a terrific driver,'” Brubeck once told me. ‘He
had calculated that the traffic lights on a stretch of road down the peninsula
to Palo Alto were timed for 45 miles an hour. Using perfect logic, he figured
out that if you could make all the lights at 45, you could make them at 90
and leave later for the gig. Every time we drove down there, I thought there
was a good chance I was going to die.”

– Doug Ramsey

photo Brubeck Institute

The Dave Brubeck Quintet, at San Francisco’s Ciro’s, 1950

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Cal Tjader, Ron Crotty, Brubeck, Desmond, Dick Collins

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“From now on until you either make it or don’t, try for once in your life
to do something with consistent, unremitting, furious singleness of purpose,
determination, and cheerful, optimistic drive. See how it works. Personally,
I think you’ll make it. Nothing is even remotely near as vital as
getting with Dave. Not writing, schoolwork, money, women, leisure, certainly
not mulling over books, magazines, correspondence, records, etc. Forget the
tape recorder has any other uses than to play Brubeck.”

– Desmond, in a note to himself about the importance of joining Brubeck’s
group permanently

photo Breitenfeld Family Collection

Desmond’s first publicity photograph, c. 1951

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“He was playing alto with the Brubeck Quartet. Brubeck, utterly without
guile or humor, a man of invincible innocence, played the piano as if he
were clearing a life-long trail through a forest of giant sequoias. Paul
Desmond leaned against the piano, hands folded over his cunning axe, and
seemed to be in reverie amid the hearty clangor. An amiable solitary at the
revival meeting.

“Then, long legged, lean, bemused, he approached the microphone and
transformed the night. With an insinuatingly pure tone, he spun cool, sensuous,
melodic variations on the theme of the moment; although Brubeck was still
fighting Indians in the background, Paul drew the audience into another,
more gentle fantasy. Romantic, but not sentimental. We were too hip for
sentimentality in public. His was the realm of an urbane dreamer all too
aware of how close yearning is to feeling ridiculous, but existentially (as
we used to say) ready for anything in our minds.”

– Nat Hentoff, reporting on the Quartet’s 1952 Storyville appearance

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Out of Nowhere

photo Brubeck Institute

The Dave Brubeck Quartet, 1951

“Brubeck’s playing was, in a sense, the holding power. That’s what gave
the group its personality, but it was Desmond’s sound that gave it the commercial
appeal.”

– George Wein

photo Breitenfeld Family Collection

Desmond and Brubeck, 1952 or 1953

*

I never would have made it without Dave.  He’s amazing
harmonically, and he can be a fantastic accompanist.  You can play the
wrongest note possible in any chord, and he can make it sound like the only
right one.”

– Paul Desmond, in response to an observation that Brubeck may not have made
it without Desmond

_____

The Song is You

photo Brubeck Institute

Brubeck and Desmond at Storyville, Boston, 1954

*

“The most important thing about Paul, you turn on a record and you know
immediately it’s him. Nobody sounds like that.”

– Herb Geller

_____

It’s a Raggy Waltz

photo Breitenfeld Family Collection

Desmond and Brubeck, 1955

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“Of all the alto saxophonists of his day, so under the influence of Charlie
Parker, Paul was the one who struck his own path and found his own sound,
integrating in his improvisations a great sense of melody, harmonic and rhythmic
invention — and wit.”

– Dave Brubeck

_____

Camptown Races

photo Paul Desmond Collection

Brubeck, bassist Eugene Wright, Desmond, drummer Joe Morello on tour

*

“When musicians used to ask me how I could play with that band, I told
them they weren’t listening. I told them I was the bottom, the foundation;
Joe was the master of time; Dave handled the polytonality and polyrhythms;
we all freed Paul to be lyrical. Everybody was listening to everybody. It
was beautiful. Those people who couldn’t accept it were looking, not listening.”

– Eugene Wright

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Far More Blue

photo Paul Desmond Collection

Morello, Wright, Brubeck and Desmond, in Bombay, India, 1958

*

“Morello and Brubeck were already interested in unusual metres, but the
experience in India and the Middle East exposed them to time signatures that
were to soon have an effect on the Quartet’s repertoire.”

– Doug Ramsey

_____

Calcutta Blues

photo Derry Music

Sheet music cover for “Take Five”

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“I still think, basically, it was a dubious idea at best, but at that
point we had three or four albums a year to get done, and we’d done all our
tunes that we’d put together, and standards and originals of Dave’s and he
said, ‘Why don’t we do this album and do all different time signatures?’
 And I said, ‘Okay.’  I was always argumentative.  And, for
some reason, I lucked out.  I really did.  It was sort of like
Keno.  ‘Okay, we’ve got 2/4, 3/4, 5/4, 6/4, 7/4, 8/4, whatever.  Why
don’t you take 5/4?’  And I wrote ‘Take Five.’  And I realize now,
that was a genius move on my part.  At the time, I thought it was kind
of a throwaway.  I was ready to trade in the entire rights of ‘Take
Five’ for a used Ronson electric razor.  And the thing that makes ‘Take
Five’ work is the bridge, which we almost didn’t use — I shudder to think
how close we came to not using that.  I said, ‘Well, I’ve got this theme
we could use for a middle part, and Dave said, ‘Well, let’s run it through,’
and that is what made ‘Take Five.'”

– Paul Desmond

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Take Five

photo Breitenfeld Family Collection

Desmond, 1962

*

“Most jazz guys will empty a hall in the middle of America, but Paul would
fill those halls and still play music that could be defended and championed
in the most rarified of jazz circles.”

– Record industry executive John Snyder

_____

Everybody’s Jumpin’

photo Paul Desmond Collection

Duke Ellington and Desmond on an ocean voyage

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“I remember a couple of times going with him to hear the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Somehow that led to a discussion of the degree to which black musicians were
ripped off by white musicians. And my impression of what he said was that
he had always gone to great lengths not to imitate, not just musically but
personally. He said, ‘I’ve become the whitest white musician,’ because he
must have felt deeply how unfair it was.”

– Gloria Steinem

photo Paul Desmond Collection

Desmond and Gerry Mulligan, 1962

“Gerry Mulligan, the baritone saxophonist whose quartet’s rise in favor
and fame paralleled the increasing success of the Brubeck group, was an
inveterate sitter-in.  When he made an impromptu guest appearance with
Brubeck at a Carnegie Hall Concert in 1954, he and Desmond enjoyed the rapport
and discussed the possibility of recording together.  Label conflicts
prevented it then.  Desmond was signed with Fantasy, Mulligan had other
label obligations.  Finally, a swap became possible when Norman Granz
agreed to allow Stan Getz, one of his Verve artists, to record with Fantasy’s
Cal Tjader in exchange for Desmond’s recording with Mulligan.”

– Doug Ramsey

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Maria

Desmond’s passport photo, 1968

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“I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a
dry martini.”

– Paul Desmond

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Three to Get Ready

photo Paul Desmond Collection

The Brubeck Quartet in the late 1960’s

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“At least once, and usually more often, a month, we’d get on a plane and
first would come Gene Wright with his bass.  Then came Joe Morello —
Dr. Cyclops, although he was always good-natured about his thick glasses.
 This procession would alert the flight attendants and passengers that
something was happening.

“First the salesman in the second row behind Gene with the bass would
say, ‘Hey are you going to tuck it under your chin and play some music for
us?’  That was inevitable.  Then the stewardess would say, ‘What
band are you with?’  And we’d say, ‘Well, actually it’s the Dave Brubeck
Quartet.’  In the earlier days they would then say, ‘Who?’, and later
on they would say, ‘Oh?’, meaning much the same thing.  Then, when the
flight got comfortably under way, and they had some leisure, the stewardess
would come back and sit down and say, ‘How many of you are there in the
quartet?'”

– Paul Desmond, as told to the writer Gene Lees

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The Duke

photo Paul Desmond Collection

Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond

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“Desmond’s humor was customarily quick, quiet, subtle, and verbal, not
slapstick.”

– Doug Ramsey

photo Breitenfeld Family Collection

Desmond and unidentified friend, 1960’s

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“How many women there were in Desmond’s life may be unknowable. Temporary
involvements abounded. When he discussed women he was seeing, he did so obliquely
and rarely mentioned their names; silence about them was part of his code.”

“When he was in love, which was often, he played to the girl he was in
love with.”

– Doug Ramsey

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Audrey

photo Paul Desmond Collection

Desmond in the early 1970’s

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“Paul’s was a complex personality, and no one person to my knowledge has
fathomed completely the intricacies of his multilayered life. Paul was a
private person. He only revealed what he wanted you to know, and different
aspects of his life were known to different people. It has been difficult
for me to determine who Paul really was, to find a common thread that bound
so many of us to him.”

– Dave Brubeck

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Love For Sale

photo Raymond Ross

“Following the reunion tour, Desmond noticed swelling in his ankles and
feet, and visited his doctor, Leo Dienstag.  The doctor ordered tests.
 The swelling turned out to be temporary and unimportant.  The
tests showed that his liver was undamaged.  The plan he had described
to Herb Geller in London, drinking until his liver gave out and he died,
was not working.  Three packs of Pall Malls every day for 35 years were
doing the job instead.”

– Doug Ramsey

photo Brubeck Institute

Desmond in the early 1970’s

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“He swooped, he soared, and he always left a trail of honey in the air.
His art was nature and love all rolling into one. One fears that our noisy
existence drowns out such men. One quietly hopes that such as Paul Desmond
will soar above the racket. Oh, if all men could sing like that…”

– Fan Dr. Augustus F. Kinzel

_____

Take Ten

desmondbook

Take
Five:  The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond

by

Doug Ramsey

___________________________

Take Five is a paragon of the bookmaker’s art, but don’t let its
physical beauty fool you. This is the book Doug Ramsey was born to write:
a love letter from one friend to another; an appreciation by a gifted critic
for a great artist; a biography of a man who so methodically compartmentalized
his music, life, and loves (many loves) that only a dedicated detective could
tie up the strands; and a history of a recent yet largely vanished musical
era. The telling is lyrical, funny, nostalgic, provocative, and allusive
— just like a Paul Desmond solo.”

—Gary Giddins, author of Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of its Second
Century

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Excerpts are from
Take
Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond
, by Doug Ramsey;
copyright, 2005, by Parkside
Publications, Inc
. Excerpted by permission of the author and Parkside
Publications. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced
or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.