Paul Desmond Day

November 25, 1924 – May 30, 1977

The superb altoist is celebrated

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Alto-saxophonist Paul Breitenfeld (Paul Desmond) was born on November 25, 1924 in San Francisco, California.

His first instrument was the violin, he switched to clarinet when he was 12, and it was not until he was a freshman at college that he switched to the alto-sax.

Desmond first met Dave Brubeck in 1944 when he was serving three years in the Army.

He worked and recorded with Brubeck’s octet and, after a short stint with Jack Fina in New York, Desmond became a key member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951, staying until its breakup in 1967.

Desmond’s cool floating tone and creative melodic ideas (which were sometimes quite witty) contrasted with Brubeck’s heavier chordal work on the piano and helped make the group very popular.

Paul Desmond did not write many songs but his “Take Five” became a classic.

Desmond, who led occasional record dates, left Brubeck after 1967 but rejoined him several times for special tours including working with Two Generations Of Brubeck, a version of the Dave Brubeck Quintet that included baritonist Gerry Mulligan, recording a duet album with the pianist and having a final reunion tour with Brubeck, bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello in 1976.

In his later years, Desmond (who had earlier recorded several albums with guitarist Jim Hall) led his own quartet with guitarist Ed Bickert.

Paul Desmond is featured at the 1975 Monterey Jazz Festival playing a beautiful version of “Emily.”

-Scott Yanow


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