Academy of the Underrated #1:
Paul Desmond


Okay, he might have been critical in helping the Whitest-sounding Jazz combo in history to sound that much more White (not to mention that his playing was so dominant on those recordings that Jazz naifs who didn't know any better thought he was Dave Brubeck), but throughout his career Paul Desmond had a beautifully lyrical tone that in the era of vaulting, aggressive Be-Bop gymnastics could sometimes seem like a much-needed breath of fresh air. The notes he didn't play were often just as important as the ones he did. Nobody ever broke a sweat listening to Desmond play his Alto; and while in most instances that's a sure sign of mediocrity, Desmond's skill raised it to the condition of virtue.

6 comments:

monsieurblob said...

it seems like crowe, as in you know, his ecriture... or a schizo side to crowe, appears in jerry maguire in the form of a babysitter... now... that tape he comes up with something about some jazz players or other in 73 or 75... dig that one up to fer me...

swac said...

My personal hero in the Brubeck realm is drummer Joe Morello. Listen to that solo in the middle of Take Five, you never know where the stick is going to fall. It's almost like he's got a big bag full of drumsticks, and he's shaking it over the kit, with the accuracy of a Lancaster bombadier. Listen to it again and let me know what you think.

I once had a chance to sit down with Mr. Morello and have a chinwag about his years with Brubeck, and it turns out he hated the guy. Brubeck didn't even want to do Take Five, but the rest of the band backed up Desmond on the matter, and when it was a huge hit, Brubeck the opportunist made sure the next record was full of all kinds of crazy time signatures.

Morello told me he kept trying to quit, and every time Brubeck would just give him a big raise, but around the time that he wanted to do a bossa nova record, he knew it was time to fly the coop (plus he didn't care much for the nonstop touring the group had to do).

The last time they played together was a White House performance at the request of Bill Clinton (who, as acknowledged in a previous post) was a huge fan and wanted the original quartet to play a special gig (a benefit for inner city music education as it turns out). Morello says Brubeck insisted everyone wear tuxedos, much to their disgruntlement. "He still treats us like kids..." he grumbled.

swac said...

And one other thing...weirdly enough I went to see Constantine with Keanu Reeves last night (he was in the movie, not my date), and there's a scene where he sits down with a drink and a smoke--there's more smoking in this movie than any I can remember--and puts on Take Five.

Now I adore the original Hellblazer comic books, and I cannot picture John Constantine listening to Dave Brubeck. Howlin' Wolf, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Ornette Coleman, hell, John Zorn or Naked City. Anything but Brubeck.

Tom Sutpen said...

Stephen wrote:

I once had a chance to sit down with Mr. Morello and have a chinwag about his years with Brubeck, and it turns out he hated the guy. Brubeck didn't even want to do Take Five, but the rest of the band backed up Desmond on the matter, and when it was a huge hit, Brubeck the opportunist made sure the next record was full of all kinds of crazy time signatures.

*****
Ha! You think that's bad. If you've ever seen Ken Burns' series on Jazz history, Brubeck comes within an inch of saying he wrote "Take Five"

Tom Sutpen said...

Juan wrote:

it seems like crowe, as in you know, his ecriture... or a schizo side to crowe, appears in jerry maguire in the form of a babysitter... now... that tape he comes up with something about some jazz players or other in 73 or 75... dig that one up to fer me...

*****
Listen, Juan, I know you're all broken up, what with the Pope in the hospital and everything, but that's no excuse for this level of incoherence.

swac said...

tas wrote:
Ha! You think that's bad. If you've ever seen Ken Burns' series on Jazz history, Brubeck comes within an inch of saying he wrote "Take Five"

*******

I think I saw that...and I think Morello was burned up about that too. I don't know what the relationship was between Brubeck and Desmond (I'm guessing strained, since the saxman did a lot of the heavy lifting in "the Dave Brubeck Quartet"), but Morello made it seem like the band was simply too successful to quit for uncertain pastures.

I have Take Five on CD (nice remaster) and maybe one other title on vinyl, but I've always felt that Brubeck is to Miles what Tom Paxton was to Dylan. Or some such analogy.