The Full Wiki

Paul Desmond: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Paul Desmond

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, October 8, 1954.
Background information
Birth name Paul Emil Breitenfeld
Also known as "The Stork"
Born November 25, 1924(1924-11-25)
Origin San Francisco, California, United States
Died May 30, 1977 (aged 52)
Genres Cool jazz
West Coast jazz
Mainstream jazz
Occupations Saxophonist
Instruments Alto saxophone
Labels Columbia Records
RCA Victor
Horizon Records
CTI Records
Associated acts Dave Brubeck
Ed Bickert
Gerry Mulligan
Jim Hall
Chet Baker

Paul Desmond (November 25, 1924 – May 30, 1977), born Paul Emil Breitenfeld, was a jazz alto saxophonist and composer born in San Francisco, best known for the work he did in the Dave Brubeck Quartet and for penning that group's greatest hit, "Take Five". Known to have possessed an idiosyncratic wit, he was one of the most popular musicians to come out of the West Coast's "cool jazz" scene. He played a Selmer Super Balanced Action alto saxophone with an M. C. Gregory model 4A-18M mouthpiece — both circa 1951 — with Rico 3 ½ reeds[1].

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.


Early life

Paul Desmond was born Paul Emil Breitenfeld in San Francisco, California in 1924. His father was an organist who played in movie theaters during silent films, and his mother was emotionally unstable during his upbringing. During childhood he spent years living with relatives in New York City due to problems at home. Desmond began playing violin at a young age, though his father forbade him to play it.[2]

He played clarinet at the age of twelve at San Francisco Polytechnic High. It was not until he became a freshman at San Francisco State College that he picked up the alto saxophone. In his freshman year he 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.[2]


Following the conclusion of World War II, Desmond started working in Palo Alto, California at the Bandbox. He also worked some 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.[2]

The story of their encounter is somewhat humorous. Brubeck — married with three children now held a grudge from his earlier experience with Desmond — instructed his wife Iola not to let him set foot in his house. But 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.[2]


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.[2][3]

Some people called him the stork -- 'Cause he would stand on one leg and leaned on the piano. But that…that was when he was playing great. What used to scare me is I'd look at him and it would just be whites in his eyes, wouldn't be any eyeballs.
Dave Brubeck
(PBS interview with Hedrick Smith)[4]

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 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.[5]

The group played until 1967, when Brubeck switched focus from music to composition and broke the unit up. During the 1970s Desmond rejoined with Dave 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 he played 25 shows in 25 nights with Brubeck, touring the United States in several cities by bus.

With Gerry Mulligan

Playing with Desmond and Mulligan was really mind-blowing because they were such heroes for me.
Perry Robinson[6]

In June 1969 Desmond appeared at the New Orleans Jazz Festival with Gerry Mulligan, procuring favorable reactions from critics and audience members.[2] 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.[6]

With Jim Hall

After some time spent inactive, he was asked to play the famous Half Note in New York City in 1971 by guitarist Jim Hall. With his special brand of humor, he says he only took the job 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.[2]

With Chet Baker

Desmond recorded the tune "Summertime" along with many others during his time with Chet Baker.

Paul Desmond Quartet

Desmond met Ed Bickert through Jim Hall in Toronto, Canada and began performing with him at several clubs in the Toronto area. He appeared with the Paul Desmond Quartet at the Edmonton Jazz Festival.

Personal life

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. In contrast, Brubeck was a religious family man.[3]

I have won several prizes as the world's slowest alto player, as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness.
Paul Desmond[7]

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 in life, namely 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.[6]

Pristine, perfect. One of the great livers of our time. Awash in Dewar's and full of health.
Paul Desmond[7]

He died in 1977, not of his heavy alcohol habit but of lung cancer. Desmond had been a very heavy smoker. 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 didn't 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. The Paul Desmond Papers are held at the Holt-Atherton Special Collections in the University of the Pacific Library.


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.[8] 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").


In 1977, Desmond was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.

External links


Year Album Leader Label
1946 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 College Of The Pacific 1 & 2 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 Jazz Red Hot And Cool Dave Brubeck Columbia
1954 Gerry Mulligan/Paul Desmond Gerry Mulligan & Paul Desmond Fantasy
1954 Desmond Dave Brubeck Fantasy
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 Dialogue For Jazz Combo And Orchestra Dave Brubeck w/ Leonard Bernstein Ozone Records
1956 Jazz Impressions Of U.S.A. Dave Brubeck Columbia
1956 Live Together Dave Brubeck Featuring Paul Desmond Dave Brubeck Blue Vox Records
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 Gerry Mulligan & Paul Desmond 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
1959 Southern Scene Dave Brubeck Columbia
1960 Brubeck and Rushing Dave Brubeck w/ Jimmy Rushing Columbia
1960 Summit Sessions Dave Brubeck Columbia
1960 The Dave Brubeck Quartet Plays Music From Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story Dave Brubeck Columbia
1960 Tonight Only w/ Carmen McRae Dave Brubeck Columbia
1961 Countdown - Time In Outer Space 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 Brandenburg Gate Revisited Dave Brubeck Columbia
1961 Take Five With Carmen McRae Dave Brubeck Columbia
1961 Desmond Blue w/ Jim Hall Paul Desmond RCA Victor
1961 The Quartet Dave Brubeck Europa Jazz
1962 Bossa Nova U.S.A. Dave Brubeck Columbia
1962 Late Lament Paul Desmond RCA/Bluebird Records
1962 Paul Desmond/Gerry Mulligan - Two Of A Mind Desmond & Mulligan RCA Victor
1962 Angel Eyes Dave Brubeck Columbia
1962 My Favorite Things Dave Brubeck Columbia
1962 Brubeck In Amsterdam Dave Brubeck Columbia
1963 The Dave Brubeck Quartet At Carnegie Hall, Pt. 1 & 2 Dave Brubeck Quartet Columbia
1963 Take Ten w/ Jim Hall 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 CBS Records
1965 The Canadian Concert Of Dave Brubeck Dave Brubeck Can-Am Records
1965 Time In Dave Brubeck Columbia
1965 Anything Goes! Dave Brubeck Columbia
1966 Jackpot! Dave Brubeck Columbia
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
1968 Summertime Paul Desmond A&M Records
1969 From The Hot Afternoon Paul Desmond A&M
1969 From The Hot Afternoon Paul Desmond Verve
1969 Bridge Over Troubled Water Paul Desmond A&M
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 ("Song to a Seagull", "Vocalise") 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 Concierto Jim Hall CTI
1975 1975: The Duets Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond Horizon Records
1975 The Paul Desmond Quartet Live Paul Desmond Horizon
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


  • How Many Of You Are There In Your Quartet? (unpublished - for years Paul claimed to be working on an autobiography, but nothing publishable was found among his effects. All that remains is a short story by this name [1])


Take Five - The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, by Doug Ramsey. 2005 Parkside Publications, Inc. Seattle, WA 98104 ISBN No. 0-9617266-7-9

Forward by Dave and Iola Brubeck.

Excellent bio of the great lyrical alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. Author Ramsey discovered a "cache of correspondence and memos-to himself in which Desmond laid out the personal a musical philosophy that created a great modern American musician. This book is the story of a man who was unswerving in his determination to be an individualist in his art, curiously unsure of himself, and adored by his friends."


  1. ^ 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.  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Doyle, Brian (2004). Spirited Men: Story, Soul, and Substance. Cowley Publications. p. 73–74. ISBN 1561012580.  
  3. ^ a b Lees, Gene (2001). Cats of Any Color: Jazz Black and White. Da Capo Press. pp. 55–57. ISBN 0306809508.  
  4. ^ Smith, Hedrick. = 2007-06-04 "Dave on Paul Desmond and the Quartet". = 2007-06-04.  
  5. ^ Martin, Henry (2004). Essential Jazz: The First 100 Years. Thomson Wadsworth. pp. 314. ISBN 0534638104.  
  6. ^ a b c Robinson, Perry (2002). Perry Robinson: The Traveler. iUniverse. p. 190–191. ISBN 0595215386.  
  7. ^ a b "Paul Desmond-isms". Retrieved 2007-06-05.  
  8. ^ Owens, Thomas (1995). Bebop: The Music and Its Players. Oxford University Press. p. 68. ISBN 0195106512.  


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I was unfashionable before anyone knew who I was.

Paul Desmond (25 November 192430 May 1977), born Paul Emil Breitenfeld, was a jazz alto saxophonist and composer born in San Francisco, best known for the work he did in the Dave Brubeck Quartet and for penning the group's greatest hit, "Take Five".


  • I could only write at the beach, and I kept getting sand in my typewriter.
    • His reason for not pursuing a literary career
  • I hate the way he writes. I kind of love the way he lives, though.
  • I have won several prizes as the world’s slowest alto player, as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness.
  • I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a dry martini.
    • About his distinctive light sound
  • I tried practicing for a few weeks and ended up playing too fast.
    • About the value of practice
  • I was unfashionable before anyone knew who I was.
    • About his playing style
  • It's like living in a house where everything's painted red.
  • Not for me. If I want to tune everybody out, I just take off my glasses and enjoy the haze.
    • On contact lenses
  • Sometimes I get the feeling that there are orgies going on all over New York City, and somebody says, `Let's call Desmond,' and somebody else says,'Why bother? He's probably home reading the Encyclopedia Britannica.'
  • Well, that I'm not playing better.
    • When asked by Gene Lees what accounted for the melancholy in his playing
  • Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.
  • You're beginning to sound like a cross between David Frost and David Susskind, and that is a cross I cannot bear.
    • His response to the annoying banality of an interviewer

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address