Paul Desmond (born Paul Emil Breitenfeld, November 25, 1924 – May 30, 1977) was an American jazz alto saxophonist and composer, best known for his work with the Dave Brubeck Quartet and for composing that group's biggest hit, "Take Five". He was one of the most popular musicians to come out of the cool jazz scene.
Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, October 8, 1954
|Birth name||Paul Emil Breitenfeld|
|Born||November 25, 1924|
San Francisco, California, U.S.
|Died||May 30, 1977 52) (aged|
Manhattan, New York City
|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|
In addition to his work with Brubeck, he led several groups and collaborated with Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Jim Hall, and Ed Bickert. After years of chain smoking and poor health, Desmond succumbed to lung cancer in 1977 after a 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 grandfather, Sigmund Breitenfeld was, according to an obituary, born in Austria in 1857. Sigmund Breitenfeld, a medical doctor, emigrated to New York City with his wife Hermine (born Hermine Lewy) at the end of the 19th century, and the Breitenfelds raised their four children (including Desmond's father Emil) with no religion. Interviewed by Desmond biographer Doug Ramsey, Desmond's first cousin Rick Breitenfeld said that no one in the Breitenfeld family could find evidence of Jewish ancestry or Jewish religious observance, but Paul Desmond and members of his father's family "frequently speculated as to whether or not Sigmund or Hermine Breitfeld had Jewish backgrounds". Biographer Ramsey notes that "[t]he name Breitenfeld could be Jewish or non-Jewish. There are plenty of Breitenfelds in Germany and Austria to support both sides of the argument. Lewy, the maiden surname of Paul's paternal grandmother Hermine, is more likely to be of Jewish origin, but no evidence of her genealogy has surfaced." Desmond's mother, born Shirley King, was Catholic, and of Irish descent.
Desmond's father, Emil Breitenfeld, was a pianist, organist, arranger, and composer. Breitenfeld accompanied silent films in movie theaters and produced musical arrangements for printed publication and for live theatrical productions. Desmond's mother Shirley was emotionally unstable throughout his upbringing, and appears to have suffered from obsessive–compulsive disorder and other mental illnesses. Starting in 1933, Desmond spent nearly five years living with relatives in New Rochelle, New York due to his mother's mental health issues.
Desmond began to study clarinet at the age of twelve, which he continued while at San Francisco Polytechnic High School. During high school, he wished to study violin, but his father dissuaded him, saying that violin players were "a dime a dozen....with the violin, you'll starve." Desmond developed a talent for writing during high school as well, becoming co-editor of his high school newspaper. In that capacity, he interviewed comedian Bob Hope for his school newspaper during one of Hope's visits to San Francisco. As freshman at San Francisco State College, Desmond began playing alto saxophone. In his first year of college, 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 not called to combat.
In 1946, following his military discharge, Desmond legally changed his last named from Breitenfeld to Desmond. He told many stories over the years regarding how he chose the name Desmond, but his biographer Doug Ramsey offers an account from Desmond's friend Hal Strack that the two were listening to the Gene Krupa band singer Johnny Desmond in 1942, and Desmond told Strack "that's such a great name. It's so smooth and yet it's uncommon....If I ever decide I need another name, it's going to be Desmond." Desmond was married from 1947 to 1949 to Duane Reeves Lamon. Following his divorce, he remained single for the rest of his life.
After World War II, Desmond started working in the San Francisco Bay Area, taking pick-up work as a backing musician as he could find it. He worked occasionally for Dave Brubeck at the Geary Cellar in San Francisco. For a period of several weeks, he led a small jazz combo at the Band Box in Redwood City that included Dave Brubeck. Desmond had a falling out with Brubeck when he resigned from the Band Box and prevented Brubeck from taking over the residency. In 1950 Desmond joined the band of Jack Fina and toured with Fina for several months, but he returned to California after hearing Brubeck's trio on the radio and deciding that he should repair his relationship with Brubeck and attempt to join Brubeck's increasingly successful band.
At the time, Brubeck and Brubeck's wife Iola had three small children, and Brubeck had instructed Iola not to let Desmond set foot in the family home. Desmond appeared at Brubeck's San Francisco apartment one day while Dave was in the back yard hanging diapers on a laundry line, and Iola, defying Brubeck's wishes, let Desmond in and took him to Dave. Desmond offered to perform arranging and administrative work for Brubeck's band, and to babysit Brubeck's children, and Brubeck finally relented and agreed to try working with Desmond again.
Dave Brubeck Quartet
Desmond had 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 overseas in 1944, to Europe. 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 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.
Desmond worked several times during his career with baritone saxophonist and band leader Gerry Mulligan. The two made two studio albums together (Gerry Mulligan - Paul Desmond Quartet (1957), and Two of a Mind (1962)). 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.
Desmond had a celebrated studio partnership with guitarist Jim Hall. Hall played on several albums recorded by Desmond between 1959 and 1963 for the Warner Bros. and RCA record labels. After some time spent inactive, Desmond was asked to play the Half Note in New York City in 1971 by 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 was a guest artist on five tracks by Chet Baker recorded between 1975-1977. These were released on the albums She Was To Good to Me, You Can't Go Home Again, and The Best Thing For You. Baker and Desmond also appeared together on two tracks included on Jim Hall's 1975 Concierto album.
Desmond met Canadian guitarist Ed Bickert through a recommendation by Jim Hall, and Desmond performed with Bickert at several clubs in the Toronto area during 1974-1975. Desmond featured Bickert on his 1975 studio album Pure Desmond, and the two played together at the 1976 Edmonton Jazz Festival. Live recordings of that concert and club dates with Bickert performed during 1974-1975 were released during and after Desmond's lifetime.
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 was also described as a womanizer who was unable to form (and was uninterested in maintaining) steady relationships with women, though he had no shortage of them throughout his life. 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 semi-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 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. In the 1940s and 1950s, Desmond frequently took amphetamines, and in the 1970s, he was known to use cocaine. 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 lent 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 produced a light, melodic tone on the alto saxophone, trying to sound, he said, "like a dry martini." With a style that was similar to that of Lee Konitz, one of his influences, he quickly became one of the best-known saxophonists 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 rare gift for improvised counterpoint is perhaps most evident on the two albums he recorded with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan (Mulligan-Desmond Quartet and Two of a Mind). Desmond's playing was also notable for his ability to produce extremely high notes, the altissimo register, on his saxophone.
Desmond played a Selmer Super Balanced Action model alto saxophone coupled with an M. C. Gregory model 4A-18M hard rubber mouthpiece, both dating from circa 1951, with a moderately stiff Rico 3 ½ reed.
With Dave Brubeck
|1950||Dave Brubeck Octet||Dave Brubeck||Fantasy 3239|
|1951||Brubeck/Desmond||Dave Brubeck Quartet||Fantasy 3229|
|1952||Modern Complex Dialogues [live]||Dave Brubeck||Alto AL-711|
|1952||Jazz at Storyville||Dave Brubeck||Fantasy 3240|
|1952||The Dave Brubeck Quartet||Dave Brubeck||Fantasy 3230|
|1952||Jazz at the Blackhawk||Dave Brubeck||Fantasy 3210|
|1953||Jazz at Oberlin||Dave Brubeck||Fantasy 3245|
|1953||The Jackson-Harris Herd/The Dave Brubeck Quartet: Live at the Blue Note, Chicago, March 1953||Dave Brubeck Quartet, Chubby Jackson–Bill Harris Herd||Jazz Band (UK) EB-2140|
|1953||Brubeck & Desmond at Wilshire-Ebell||Dave Brubeck||Fantasy 3249|
|1953||Jazz at the College of the Pacific||Dave Brubeck||Fantasy 3223|
|1953||Jazz at the College of the Pacific, Volume 2||Dave Brubeck||OJC 1076|
|1954||Dave Brubeck at Storyville 1954||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-590|
|1954||Jazz Goes to College||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-566|
|1954||Brubeck Time||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-622|
|1954||Jazz: Red Hot and Cool [live]||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-699|
|1956, 1957||Dave Brubeck Quartet Live in 1956–57 Featuring Paul Desmond||Dave Brubeck||Jazz Band (UK) EB-2102|
|1956||Live From Basin Street||Dave Brubeck||Jazz Band (UK) EB-402|
|1956||Dave Brubeck and Jay & Kai at Newport||Dave Brubeck Quartet, J. J. Johnson–Kai Winding Quintet||Columbia CL-932|
|1956||Dave Brubeck Featuring Paul Desmond: Live Together||Dave Brubeck||Joker (Italy) SM-3804; Blue Vox (Switzerland) B/90174|
|1956||Jazz Impressions of the U.S.A.||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-984|
|1957||Re-Union||Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond/Dave Van Kriedt||Fantasy 3268|
|1957||Jazz Goes to Junior College||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-1034|
|1957||Dave Digs Disney||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-1059|
|1958||The Dave Brubeck Quartet In Europe||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-1168|
|1958||Newport 1958: Brubeck Plays Ellington||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-1249|
|1958||Jazz Impressions of Eurasia||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-1251|
|1958||The Quartet [live]||Dave Brubeck||Europa Jazz (Italy) EJ-1032; Denon (Japan) 33C38-7681|
|1959||Gone with the Wind||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-1347/CS-8156|
|1959||Time Out [includes "Take Five"]||Dave Brubeck Quartet||Columbia CL-1397/CS-8192|
|1959, 1962||St. Louis Blues [live]||Dave Brubeck||Moon (Italy) MLP-028|
|1959||Southern Scene||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-1439/CS-8235|
|1960||Brubeck and Rushing||Dave Brubeck w/ Jimmy Rushing||Columbia CL-1553/CS-8353|
|1960||Bernstein Plays Brubeck Plays Bernstein||Dave Brubeck w/ Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic||Columbia CL-1466/CS-8257|
|1960||Tonight Only!||Dave Brubeck w/ Carmen McRae||Columbia CL-1609/CS-8409|
|1961||Time Further Out: Miro Reflections||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-1690/CS-8490|
|1961, 1962||Countdown—Time in Outer Space||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-1775/CS-8575|
|1961||Brandenburg Gate: Revisited||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-1963/CS-8763|
|1961||Take Five Live||Dave Brubeck w/ Carmen McRae||Columbia CL-2316/CS-9116|
|1962||Bossa Nova U.S.A.||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-1998/CS-8798|
|1962||Brubeck in Amsterdam||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CS-9897|
|1963||At Carnegie Hall||Dave Brubeck Quartet||Columbia C2L-26/C2S-826 [as double LP]; CL-2036/CS-8836 and CL-2037/CS-8837 [as single LPs]|
|1963||Time Changes||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-2127/CS-8927|
|1964||Jazz Impressions of Japan||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-2212/CS-9012|
|1964||Jazz Impressions of New York||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-2275/CS-9075|
|1964||In Concert 1964||Dave Brubeck||Jazz Connoisseur (Israel) JC-003|
|1964||Dave Brubeck in Berlin||Dave Brubeck||CBS (Germany) 62578|
|1965||The Canadian Concert of Dave Brubeck||Dave Brubeck||Can-Am (Canada) 1500|
|1965||Angel Eyes||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-2348/CS-9148|
|1965||My Favorite Things||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-2437/CS-9237|
|1965||Time In||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-2512/CS-9312|
|1966||Dave Brubeck's Greatest Hits [compilation]||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-2484/CS-9284|
|1966||Anything Goes! The Dave Brubeck Quartet Plays Cole Porter||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-2602/CS-9402|
|1966||Jackpot! Recorded Live in Las Vegas||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-2712/CS-9512|
|1967||Bravo! Brubeck! [live]||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-2695/CS-9495|
|1967||Buried Treasures: Recorded Live in Mexico City||Dave Brubeck||Columbia/Legacy CK-65777|
|1967||Take Five Live||Dave Brubeck||JMY (Italy) 1001|
|1967||The Last Time We Saw Paris [live]||Dave Brubeck||Columbia CL-2872/CS-9672|
|1967||Their Last Time Out: The Unreleased Live Concert, December 26, 1967||Dave Brubeck Quartet||Columbia/Legacy 886978156228|
|1971||Summit Sessions||Dave Brubeck||Columbia C-30522|
|1972||We're All Together Again for the First Time||Dave Brubeck/Gerry Mulligan/Paul Desmond||Atlantic SD-1641|
|1975||1975: The Duets||Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond||Horizon/A&M SP-703|
|1976||25th Anniversary Reunion||Dave Brubeck Quartet||Horizon/A&M SP-714|
|1954||Desmond (AKA Paul Desmond Quintet With The Bill Bates Singers)||Paul Desmond w/ Dick Collins, Dave Van Kriedt||Fantasy 3-21|
|1956||Desmond: Here I AM (AKA The Paul Desmond Quartet Featuring Don Elliott)||Paul Desmond w/ Don Elliott||Fantasy 3225|
|1959||First Place Again||Paul Desmond||Warner Bros. WS-1356|
|1962||Desmond Blue||Paul Desmond w/ strings||RCA Victor LPM-2438|
|1962||Late Lament [reissue of Desmond Blue with different cover art, different track running order, plus three previously unreleased tracks from the same sessions]||Paul Desmond||RCA/Bluebird 5778-2-RB|
|1963||Take Ten||Paul Desmond||RCA Victor LPM-2569|
|1965||Glad to Be Unhappy||Paul Desmond featuring Jim Hall||RCA Victor LPM-3407|
|1965||Bossa Antigua||Paul Desmond featuring Jim Hall||RCA Victor LPM-3320|
|1966||Easy Living||Paul Desmond featuring Jim Hall||RCA Victor LPM-3480|
|1969||Summertime||Paul Desmond||A&M/CTI SP-3015|
|1969||From the Hot Afternoon||Paul Desmond||A&M/CTI SP-3024|
|1970||Bridge over Troubled Water||Paul Desmond||A&M/CTI SP-3032|
|1974||Skylark||Paul Desmond||CTI 6039|
|1974||Pure Desmond||Paul Desmond||CTI 6059|
|1975||Live||Paul Desmond Quartet||Horizon/A&M SP-850|
|1976||Paul Desmond||Paul Desmond w/ Ed Bickert||Artists House AH-2|
|1989||The Complete Recordings of the Paul Desmond Quartet With Jim Hall [posthumous box set]||Paul Desmond w/ Jim Hall||Mosaic MR6-120|
|1992||Like Someone in Love [recorded 1975]||Paul Desmond Quartet||Telarc 83319|
With Gerry Mulligan
|1954||Gerry Mulligan/Paul Desmond [reissues]||Paul Desmond Quintet/Quartet, Gerry Mulligan Quartet||Fantasy 3220|
|1957||Blues in Time (AKA Gerry Mulligan–Paul Desmond Quartet)||Paul Desmond w/ Gerry Mulligan||Verve MGV-8246|
|1962||Two of a Mind||Paul Desmond w/ Gerry Mulligan||RCA Victor LPM-2624|
With Chet Baker
|1955||Chet Baker Quartet Plus: The Newport Years, Vol. 1 [live]||Chet Baker/Clifford Brown/Gerry Mulligan/Dave Brubeck||Philology (Italy) W-51|
|1974||She Was Too Good to Me||Chet Baker||CTI 6050|
|1977||You Can't Go Home Again||Chet Baker||Horizon/A&M SP-726|
|1977||The Best Thing for You||Chet Baker||A&M 0832|
|1951||"How Long, Baby How Long, Pt. 1" // "How Long, Baby How Long, Pt. 2" [78rpm 10" disc]||Jack Sheedy Sextet||Coronet #109|
|1951||"The Man I Love" // "Down In Honkytonk Town" [78rpm 10" disc]||Jack Sheedy Sextet||Coronet #110|
|1971||The Only Recorded Performance of Paul Desmond With The Modern Jazz Quartet [live]||Paul Desmond w/ Modern Jazz Quartet||Finesse/Columbia FW-37487|
|1973||Giant Box||Don Sebesky||CTI 6031/32|
|1975||Concierto||Jim Hall||CTI 6060|
|1977||Watermark||Art Garfunkel||Columbia JC-34975|
- "The Milwaukee Sentinel – May 31, 1977 – Jazz Musician Paul Desmond Dies at Age 52 – Google News Archive". News.google.com. May 31, 1977. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
- "Take five". google.ca.
- Ramsey, Doug (2004). Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond. Seattle, Wa.: Parkside Publications. ISBN 978-0961726676.
- "Take five". google.ca.
- "Paul Desmond". geni_family_tree.
- 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.
- Gioia, Ted (1998). West Coast Jazz, Ch 4: "Dave Brubeck and Modern Jazz in San Francisco"; University of California Press, 1998 ISBN 0520217292
- "Paul Desmond-isms". Retrieved September 22, 2013.
- 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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