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Paul Desmond

 

 

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Paul Desmond was born in San Francisco in 1924.  His last name was actually ,Brentenfield, but changed it, because he thought it sounded too Irish.  Early on, he studied clarinet, but switched to the alto saxophone.    He joined the Dave Brubeck Octet from 1948-50.   He took a brief leave and returned to join Brubeck's quartet from 1951-67.   Desmond was the definitive "cool" alto saxophonist, with a style that slightly bore some resemblance to that of Stan Getz, except Desmond liked to milk the high notes more.   He indulged in counter-melodies with Brubeck (who played piano) and played witty, yet logical solos that really drove the Brubeck quartet.  He rarely played solos in double-time, preferring a cool, laid-back setting, but his solos contained surprising twists.  He is probably best known for his classic solo on his composition "Take Five."  The song sold over a million copies and remains popular today.  On an interesting note, he willed the huge royalties from this hit to the Red Cross. 

Apart from the Brubeck quartet, he sometimes recorded as a leader, often in piano-less groups.  He also recorded with Gerry Mulligan and Jim Hall.  He didn't build a strong identity apart from his Brubeck, but it wasn't a priority to him.  After the quartet broke-up, he was in semi-retirement, with a notable meetings with the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1971 and guitarist Ed Bickert.  He played in reunions with Brubeck during 1972-75.  Paul Desmond died of cancer in 1977.


For More information on Paul Desmond, check out these sites:

Paul Desmond - a page made by a Northwestern University jazz student.

Pure Desmond  - a fan's site

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