The Wit and Humor of Paul Desmond

“I would also like to thank my father who discouraged me from playing the violin at an early age.” ~ Paul Desmond

imagePaul was such a humorous fellow in addition to being one of my fav musicians. I luv’d this biography, “Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond” by Doug Ramsey.

‘”As a jazz fan all of my (long) adult life, I thought I was quite conversant with the lives of the jazz greats. Not so with Paul Desmond. This bio, the size of a coffee table book, superbly traces his life as a student of all musical genres, of his intense desire to achieve perfection in his own playing and in his compositions. It covers his early doubts regarding a career in writing rather than music; his periods of self doubt and introspection. A major revelation to me was that success might not have come to him or to Dave Brubeck if they had not discovered each other. They read each others musical minds on the fly making for some of the most delightful jazz ever.‘’ ~ Lyle Spalding

Paul had a unique almost dry sense of humor. Here is a collection of some his quotes:

image“I have won several prizes as the world’s slowest alto player, as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness.”

“I was unfashionable before anyone knew who I was.”

“I tried practicing for a few weeks and ended up playing too fast.”

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

On the secret of his tone: “I honestly don’t know! It has something to do with the fact that I play illegally.”

image“Our basic audience begins with creaking elderly types of twenty-three and above.”

When asked by Gene Lees what accounted for the melancholy in his playing he replied, “Wellllll, the fact that I’m not playing better.”

“I discovered early in life that if you take gym first period, you can go into the wrestling room and sit in the corner and sleep.”
He was an English major in college. His reason for not pursuing a literary career, “I could only write at the beach, and I kept getting sand in my typewriter.”

“Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.”

Of Vogue fashion models, he said, “Sometimes they go around with guys who are scuffling — for a while. But usually they end up marrying some cat with a factory. This is the way the world ends, not with a whim but a banker.”

“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.'”

His response to the annoying banality of an interviewer, “You’re beginning to sound like a cross between David Frost and David Susskind, and that is a cross I cannot bear.”

Shortly before the Dave Brubeck Quartet disbanded, “We’re working as if it were going out of style — which of course it is.”

Of yogurt he said, “I don’t like it, but Dave is always trying things like that. He’s a nutritional masochist. He’ll eat anything as long as he figures it’s good for him.”

Of contact lenses: “Not for me. If I want to tune everybody out, I just take off my glasses and enjoy the haze”

On Ornette Coleman’s playing, “It’s like living in a house where everything’s painted red.”

Doug Ramsey wrote that Desmond on seeing Barbara Jones’ oil painting of four cats stalking a mouse said, “Ah, the perfect album cover for when I record with the Modern Jazz Quartet.” Ramsey pointed out that the mouse was mechanical and Desmond responded, “In that case, Cannonball will have to make the record.”

Desmond’s fondness for scotch was well known. So in early 1976 when a physical examination showed lung cancer, he was ironically pleased that his liver was fine. “Pristine, perfect. One of the great livers of our time. Awash in Dewars and full of health.”

Excerpts from the cover notes to “Take Ten”:

“I’m taking his [jazz writer, George Avakian] place this time because he’s up to his jaded ears in Newport tapes and partly because this way we’ll have room on the back for pictures.”

“Briefly, then, I’m this saxophone player from the Dave Brubeck Quartet, with which I’ve been associated with since shortly after the Crimean War. You can tell which one is me because when I’m not playing, which is surprisingly often, I’m leaning against the piano… [a little later, speaking of guitarist, Jim Hall] … hilariously easy to work with except except he complains once in a while when I lean on the guitar.”

“Gene Cherico, who’s becoming a thoroughly fantastic bass player, has only been playing bass for the last eight years. (Before that he was a drummer, but a tree fell on him. No kidding, that’s the kind of life he leads)… Connie Kay is, of course, the superb drummer from the Modern Jazz Quartet, and if a tree ever falls on him I may just shoot myself.”

“Bob Prince, doubtless overwhelmed at having a song named after him, appeared frequently with advice and council which was totally disregarded.”

Comment by Doug Ramsey on Paul Desmond: “We were in an elevator in the Portland Hilton, waiting for the doors to close when the car jerked and dropped slightly, and a bell sounded. “What was that?” a startled woman asked. “E-flat,” Paul Desmond and I said simultaneously.”

Paul Desmond on why he changed his name said, “Breitenfeld sounded too Irish.”

About Gandalfe

Just an itinerant saxophonist trying to find life between the changes. I have retired from the Corps of Engineers and Microsoft. I am an admin on the Woodwind Forum, run the Seattle Solid GOLD Big Band (formerly the Microsoft Jumpin' Jive Orchestra) a GOLD sax quartet, and enjoy time with family and friends.
This entry was posted in Heroes, Hobbies, Humor, Jazz, Music, Saxophone, Vintage and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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