Thursday, May 26, 2011
“Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond” by Doug Ramsey
“Paul Desmond discovered Elaine’s shortly after Kaufman opened it in 1963. It was a place where he could quietly drink, spend time with friends and nurture the notion that he was writing a book, one chapter of which actually appeared.I spent my share of late nights there with Paul. When my Desmond biography was published, it is where we held the book’s coming out party. An evening at Elaine’s was likely to involve stimulating conversation with a rotating cast of characters … With Elaine [now] gone, my next visit to New York will be less interesting, but I’ll probably get more sleep.”
- Doug Ramsey, writing in his Rifftides blog
Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights
The monthly mystery reading group to which I belong recently decided on a Stuart Woods novel for our next read-and-discuss meeting.
Mr. Woods is a best-selling author with over 40 books to his credit.
His main protagonist is “Stone Barrington,” a fictional attorney who is a partner in an upscale New York law firm, although he works out of his home in Turtle Bay [east side of midtown Manhattan] where he is ably supported by Joan, his beautiful, charming and witty legal secretary.
Stone has a tendency to become involved with cases that offer a full array of quirky characters, most of whom are caught up in problems caused by their reckless pursuit of life-in-the-fast-lane [i.e.: money, power and sex].
In exchange for rescuing the “good guys” and bringing down the “bad guys,” Stone gets rewarded with bucketfuls of bounty and a bevy of beautiful babes, all the while uttering brilliant banter and balderdash courtesy of My. Woods’ flamboyant writing pen [word processor?].
Joining him in his search for truth and justice is
’s best friend, Dino Bacchetti, a high ranking detective with the NYPD and Stone’s former partner before he retired from the force and took up law. Barrington
Early in most of these novels, Stone and Dino can be found setting the plot for the mystery-to-come over drinks and dinner at Elaine’s.
Named after its owner, Elaine Kaufman and located on
Second Avenue between 88th & 89th Streets, this upper East Side restaurant has been particularly welcoming to writers, newspaper reporters, radio and television broadcasters, and actors between its founding in 1963 through Elaine’s passing in December, 2010.
Although I had known about Elaine’s for years, I had only been there once for a quick cocktail as most out-of-towners generally stay south of
Central Park when in on business or pleasure and rarely get to the New York Upper Eastside.
One reference to the place that has always stayed with me is Jazz writer and journalist Doug Ramsey’s description of his meetings at Elaine’s with the late, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond when both were resident in The Big Apple in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Indeed, one of the chapters in Doug’s biographical tribute to his late friend is entitled Elaine’s, Bradley’s and The Book.
The biography in question is Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond which was published in 2005 by Parkside Publications of Seattle, WA.
In reviewing our copy of Doug’s endearing homage to Paul, the thought came to us that featuring one of the book’s chapters on JazzProfiles would be a special treat for visitors to the blog.
We asked Doug for his approval and both he and his publisher, Malcolm Harris, kindly gave their permission to re-print the Take Five chapter from the book on these pages.
What follows isn’t quite the snappy Stone Barrington-Dino Bacchetti repartee of the Stuart Woods novels, but if you are a fan of Paul Desmond’s music and Doug Ramsey’s sterling writing about Jazz and its makers, it doesn’t get any better than this.
We have added photographs and illustrations.
Should you be interested in ordering a copy of the book, you can do so by going directly to Parkside via this link.
© -Doug Ramsey/Parkside Publications, used with the permission of the author and the publisher; copyright protected; all rights
“In 1993, I was looking at tourist doodads in a little shop just off Betlemska’ in
when a woman behind me opened the lid of a small wooden music box. The box did not play a Moravian folk song or a Dvorak melody. It played the first eight bars of Paul Desmond's "Take Five.” I have heard 'Take Five" from the overhead speakers in a subway station in Mexico City, in the neighborhood Safeway while reaching for the Cheerios, at gas stations when I am filling the tank and from too many sidewalk saxophonists to count. During halftime of a high school football game, I heard a band play it while marching in twenty-degree weather. It is ubiquitous in elevators, dentists offices and restaurants, and on internet and cable-system music channels. The single record of the piece from the Prague Dave Brubeck album Time Out was the first jazz instrumental to sell a million copies. Nine-hundred-fifty-nine recorded versions have been licensed in the . Only a country-by-country survey could confirm the number of authorized foreign versions. It would be all but impossible to know how many bands have performed the piece unlicensed and unauthorized. There are sheet music arrangements of "Take Five" for solo piano, brass band, chorus, accordion, guitar, flute choir, string orchestra, drum and percussion and—I swear—handbells. United States
All of that success came to a piece written in 5/4 time, a meter not unknown in classical music but rarely used in jazz. It happened despite the record company's dismay over Brubeck's decision not only to use odd meters but also to make an album entirely of original compositions, and despite its lukewarm initial efforts to promote the album.
"Columbia Records was very unhappy with the album Time Out, didn't support it, and released it only on the condition that our next album would consist of more standard material," Brubeck said. "...I was exasperated with
for ignoring Time Out until, on its own, it became a favorite with the disc jockeys and their audiences."1 [Brubeck to Ben Young, quoted in the notes for The Complete Mercury Max Roach Plus Four Sessions, Mosaic 201.] Columbia
After "Take Five" became one of the most familiar pieces of music in the world, Desmond tired of questions about it and amused himself by concocting stories about the piece's origins. His favorite version linked it with his gambling habit. He told people that he was inspired by the rhythmic sounds that slot machines make—down, back, click-click-click.
"Have you ever heard that?"
Dave Brubeck said, laughing. "I read that somewhere and I said, 'Come on, Paul, no.' It was Joe Morello who gave him that rhythm." Morello said that in concert he used to go into 5/4 time in the drum break of a Brubeck piece called "Sounds of the Loop," which the group recorded in 1956 in its album Jazz Impressions Of The USA.
"I'd just mess around in 5, go from 5/4 to 7/4, and I guess they hadn't heard that kind of thing before, so I kept saying, "Come on,
Dave, why don't you write something in 5/4? He never did, so Paul said one night, 'Oh, shit, I'll write something.' We were rehearsing up at Dave's house one time, and Paul came in with that. So, we recorded the thing in the studio at , and I think it was the first take or the second take, and Columbia Dave was playing the vamp. I got more comments on that darn drum solo. I hear it every day somewhere, so it was a very lucky thing. It was my idea. Everybody made a lot of money but me."
The question of initial inspiration for "Take Five" aside, in a 1976 interview on Radio
, Desmond gave Brubeck ultimate credit for the radical idea in 1959 of recording an album of pieces in unorthodox time signatures. Brubeck had written for the Octet in unusual meters as early as 1946. Canada
"I still think, basically, it was a dubious idea at best," Desmond said, "but at that point we had three or four albums a year to get done, and we'd done all our tunes that we'd put together, and standards and originals of
Dave's and he said, 'Why don't we do this album and do all different time signatures?' And I said, 'Okay.' I was always argumentative. And, for some reason, I lucked out. I really did. It was sort of like Keno. 'Okay, we've got 2/4, 3/4, 5/4, 6/4, 7/4, 8/4, whatever. Why don't you take 5/4?' And I wrote Take Five/ And I realize now, that was a genius move on my part. At the time, I thought it was kind of a throwaway. I was ready to trade in the entire rights of Take Five' for a used Ronson electric razor. And the thing that makes Take Five' work is the bridge, which we almost didn't use—I shudder to think how close we came to not using that. I said, 'Well, I've got this theme we could use for a middle part, and Dave said, 'Well, let's run it through,’ and that"—Desmond whistled the first four bars of the bridge section—"is what made Take Five.’"2 [Paul Desmond, Radio , probably June, 1976.] Canada
The piece had no name when Desmond brought in the two themes. Brubeck came up with the formula for combining them into AABA form and provided the title. In a conversation with
Gene Lees, Desmond elaborated on the structure and content of the piece.
"I had the middle part kind of vaguely in mind. I thought, 'We could do this, but then we'd have to modulate again, and we're already playing in 5/4 and six flats, and that's enough for one day's work.' Fortunately, we tried it, and that's where you get the main part of the song."3 [
Gene Lees, Meet Me at Jim and Andy’s, , 1988, p. 258.] The bridge is a chromatic reduction of the opening phrase of the Johnny Burke-Jimmy Van Heusen popular song "Sunday, Monday, or Always," a 1943 hit for Bing Crosby, a piece that Desmond frequently quoted in solos. His adaptation of it is in ideal contrast to the first theme and creates an exquisite balance between the two sections. Oxford
It was not the first use of 5/4 in jazz. For a piece called "Turkish Mambo," the pianist Lennie Tristano in 1954 overdubbed two piano parts and shifted time from 7/8 to 7/4, 5/8 to 5/4, and 3/8 to 4/4. As the Canadian musicologist Andrew Homzy has pointed out, in 1914 the jazz pioneer James Reese Europe wrote a piece called "Half and Half" in 5/4 for dancers Vernon and Irene Castle; Duke Ellington included 5/4 passages in "Black, Brown and Beige"; and Leonard Feather wrote a movement in 5/4 as part of his and Dick Hyman's 1957 "Hi-Fi Suite." The same summer that the Brubeck group recorded "Take Five," drummer Max Roach's quintet was playing a 5/4 blues called "As Long As You're Living." They recorded it for Mercury Records a few days after the Brubeck Time Out session. Members of the Roach band have accused Morello, Brubeck and Desmond of stealing the idea when both bands were playing a festival in
. Roach's Tenor saxophonist, Stanley Turrentine, was specific in his charge. Detroit
"And they knew Schillinger, you know, the mathematical way of arranging by listening to a song," Turrentine told writer Ben Young. "And Joe Morello and all them dudes were writing all this shit down. Max like to went crazy after he found that out. Went crazy. He really got upset."
Young asked Brubeck to respond.
"I do remember that festival in
with Max's group. My recollection is that both groups played some things in different time signatures and that Max and I had a discussion about poly-rhythms, odd time signatures, and new directions to explore. Because we were playing thousands of miles apart, different working groups only got a chance to hear each other at festivals like these. But no one in the Quartet knew the Schillinger system or wrote down the music that Max's group played. I have always admired Max Roach and consider him a good friend. Max was developing the concept of poly rhythms early in his career, as was I." Detroit
As for why the Brubeck record became a massive hit and Roach's did not, Turrentine had a theory..."it seems like they held our record back, and put that Take Five' out there, man, before they put out 'As Long As You're Living.' His scenario ignores the commercial reality that when it comes to sales, major record companies do not collude; they compete. Roach's bassist, Bob Boswell, came closer to the answer.
"But the only thing that I could say, and not being derogatory about it, was the fact that Brubeck's tune wasn't as involved as ours. Ours was based on a 5/4 blues," Boswell told Young, "but his was based on just a couple of chords. They played the head of the tune, and then they let the head of it go. And they stayed right on those changes. They stayed right on the vamp in 5/4 and played off of that vamp. But see, ours was based on the entire blues, and we played off the whole blues, the 5/4. So ours may have been a little more intricate for the public at that time, and the public snapped his up because it was a little more simple to grasp."4 [Turrentine, Brubeck and Boswell quoted by Ben Young in the notes for Mosaic 201].
Simplicity may have been a factor, but the public was taken with the piece's irresistible good feeling, and memorable solos by Morello and Desmond.
Ted Gioia expanded on that thought. After writing of the "tired format" of the Brubeck recordings that preceded Time Out, he praised the album's "burst of creativity" as "nothing short of staggering."
"This was not only the most financially successful album of Brubeck's career, but was also an immense artistic success," Gioia wrote. "This latter fact may well have been hidden under the critics' continued gripes about Brubeck's dazzling rise to even higher heights of stardom, yet the snide comment and put-downs did no lasting damage. This album is still a delight to listen to a generation later, and not just because of the odd meters—others have come to master them with greater ease since 1959—but because of their winning incorporation into a series of exceptional and fresh sounding compositions. Perhaps no other jazz album of the decade exuded so much enthusiasm and such a sense of unbridled fun."5 [
Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz, , 1992, p.20.] Oxford
"Take Five's" popularity came as a surprise to everyone involved; Desmond, who composed it; Morello, who inspired it; Brubeck, who, as Morello requested, "kept that vamp going;" Wright, who loved playing in 5/4; and, most of all, Columbia Records, which hated the idea until the company realized that it had been looking a prize-winning gift horse in the mouth. Nonetheless, the song did not hit immediately. Columbia President Goddard Lieberson ordered a single of "Take Five," with "Blue Rondo a la Turk" on the other side, but it took
eighteen months to issue a version edited for juke boxes and radio airplay. Brubeck asked Columbia to push both tunes equally, but Columbia argued that there had to be an A side and a B side. The company decided to make "Take Five" the A side because the title was catchy and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" was too long for juke box menus. It was not until 1961 that "Take Five" became omnipresent at home and abroad. Columbia
"We are innocent of trying to make a hit record," Brubeck told Down Beat. "When I get most skeptical about so-called popular music, and the public, and the radio stations, I think about "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo" and feel that the public can go for some pretty good things."6 [Down Beat,
March 25, 1976, p.20]
Despite Brubeck's characteristic optimism, it was a monumental, and rare, instance of music triumphing over conventional wisdom and the accounting mentality of the record business, and it happened in the nick of time. Within a few years of "Take Five's" success, the segmented popularity-charting of the music industry, targeted marketing practices of record companies and mandated playlists at radio stations had strangled the possibility of an unconventional record driving its way to the top by force of its musical merit and attractiveness. The disc jockeys who exposed "Take Five" to a receptive public simply because they liked it were soon to lose their freedom to choose the records they played on the air.
As "Take Five" began causing a stir, Desmond wrote his father about another of his compositions for which he had hopes of wide success. He also lamented that he had not retained publishing rights, and therefore publishing royalties, for "Take Five" in his own company, Aardvark, rather than letting them go to Brubeck's Derry Music.
"Late Lament" just came out, to thunderous lack of reaction on all sides, on an album called Tonight Only (CL 1609), most of which is taken up with Carmen McRae singing some of
Dave's songs. (She could have sung "Late Lament," too, except that the other tunes were recorded several months earlier), then the album was filled out with a kind of mish-mosh of previously unrecorded (previously unrehearsed, if you want to know the truth) quartet tunes. The one called "Tonight Only" was re-titled, in mild desperation, for the album, and besides being easily the most forgettable tune we've ever played had as its original title one of my all-time favorites: "All I Want From You Is A Christmas Valentine/' 'Take Five," on the other hand, is really thriving. (I wish I'd held out more firmly for putting it in Aardvark instead of Dave's company). It's been selling the whole LP (Time Out), which is till around number 5 on the jazz charts and which will be our second biggest record, after Jazz Goes To College). Last week they made a single out of it, which is showing unbelievable signs of life.7 [Paul Desmond to Emil Breitenfeld, early 1961.]
Later in 1961, while the Quartet was on tour in
, Desmond wrote his father in hopes that Emil would apply his songwriting skills to the piece. England
Would you be interested in writing a set of sensational lyrics to "Take Five?" They are desperately needed at the moment; I don't have any particularly interesting ideas myself and everybody is clustering around waving lyrics in my face. Especially
Dave, which is a refreshing switch. But if I have one thing fixed firmly dead center in my mind, it's that this is not going to be another Brubeck song sung by Carmen McRae. It's really kind of a monumental hit over here—even more than in the States—to the extent that it's the only thing people are talking to Dave about when they interview him. They even have things on those English headline posters on newsstands like BRUBECK TAKE FIVE' MYSTERY (because of Maloney's 8 [Michael J. Maloney was an attorney in James R. Bancroft’s San Francisco law firm.] prolonged dickering for foreign rights, it was on the top ten here for months with no published version; local bands were painfully taking it off the record) And everybody is frantically putting out jazz singles to cash in on what they consider a trend. (This week's Melody Maker headline: MODERN JAZZ WAR IN POP CHARTS...Effort to dislodge Take Five'). I've been walking around with a contented, superior smile all week. Insufferable, as usual.
So, anyway, we need some lyrics. You'll probably have to change the music a bit—replace the sixteenth notes in the second bar with quarters, and maybe leave out the last two beats of the fourth bar of the bridge, etc.9 [Paul Desmond to Emil and Shirley Breitenfeld, probably late 1961.]
If Emil Breitenfeld wrote lyrics to "Take Five.” no trace of them has been found. Brubeck did write words to it, with input from lola. They include his inspired phrase in the bridge, perfect for the meter, "It's a pantomime and not a play."
Won't you stop and take a little time out with me, just take five;
Stop your busy day and take the time out to see I'm alive.
Though I’m going out of my way, Just so I can pass by each day, Not a single word do we say, It's a pantomime and not a play
Still I know our eyes often meet,
I feel tingles down to my feet,
when you smile that's much too discreet,
sends me on my way.
Wouldn't it be better not to be so polite, you could offer a light;
Start a little conversation now, it's alright, just take five, just take five.
© 1962, Derry Music Company
In December, 1961, Desmond's preference notwithstanding, Carmen McRae recorded the song with the Quartet. The version is barely longer than two minutes. Desmond plays obligato behind McRae's vocal and a sixteen-bar solo that is not quite perfunctory but bespeaks minimal enthusiasm. The performance was issued in 1965. Al Jarreau had a hit vocal version of "Take Five," with Brubeck's lyrics, in 1977.
The composer royalties for "Take Five" became a dependable annuity for Desmond, who was already the highest-paid sideman in jazz. From 1960 to 1988, the publisher's share of royalties went to Derry Music Company, which is administered by Richard Jeweler, Brubeck's lawyer. Because of the peculiarities of the old
copyright law, in 1989 the publisher's share reverted to Desmond's estate, which now entirely owns "Take Five" in this country. Outside of the U.S. , publisher credit and royalties stay with United States Derry, but the composer royalties go to the Desmond estate. After his death, the royalties provided a bonanza to Desmond's principal beneficiary, as we shall see in a later chapter.
Gene Lees became editor of Down Beat in 1959, he was putting together the annual feature on the magazine's critics poll. Desmond had taken first place in the alto saxophone category.
"I needed pictures of the poll winners," Lees said. "In those days, photographs went to the printer as engravings in which black and white were reversed. I had no staff, and there wasn't much time to get engravings. They were little, about an inch and a half by two. Something had I been filed wrong, and all I could see, looking at it in the reverse, is that it was a guy with glasses. I took the engraving and dropped it in. It turned out to be Lee Konitz. I got fifty letters, at least, from readers. Then I met Desmond in
and apologized to him for the error, and he said, 'Oh, that's okay. If you think I was bugged, you should try Lee.' Chicago
"We had lunch together. I felt an immediate affinity for the guy. I found him witty and urbane, and he had what I've called his evil conspiratorial chuckle. Paul always had an ambition to be a writer. We got talking about writing, and he said something I never forgot, 'I think writing is like jazz in that it can be learned but it cannot be taught.' Thinking of Thorne Smith's Novel Turnabout, I said, 'If only we could exchange abilities for a day or two.' And he said, 'Even for an hour.' That's my first memory of Paul, aside from the records."
In 1959, before "Take Five," Brubeck was weary of the perpetual motion of touring and the long separations from his family. He would have walked away from the big time and played only in the Bay Area, except for one thing; he was broke. The concerts paid handsomely, but expenses took most of the money. His attorney and accountant, James R. Bancroft, told him that he owed ten thousand dollars in back taxes. Bancroft asked him, in effect, whether he was interested in getting out of debt and being able to put his children through college. He persuaded Brubeck to rent the Oakland house, go on the road for a year to pay off the debt and move his family to the East Coast, near the sources of most of the potential work in clubs and at the colleges where the band was becoming increasingly popular. In comparison with the East, there wasn't nearly as much work for jazz musicians out West in those days. He could always move back to the house in the hills above the bay.
In 1960, a Columbia Records executive, Irving Townsend, was about to take over the label's jazz operations on the West Coast and arranged for Brubeck to rent the house he had been occupying in
. The Brubecks took a deep breath and made the move. The house, one of a dozen in a colony owned by a woman who liked to rent to artists and writers, was in a woods. Others who had lived in the colony included George Balanchine, the critic Leonard Feather and the producer John Hammond. The house had openness, light and lots of room. The Brubecks liked living there, and Wilton Dave enjoyed being able to spend time with his family rather than chewing it up in traveling to the east from . Visitors remember a piano in every room, including the kitchen. Eventually, they decided to sell their house in the Oakland Hills and build their own place in California , an establishment immediately christened by Desmond The Wilton Hilton. From its hill, the house looks down across a sweep of the property's stream and twenty acres of meadow and woodland. Wilton
Desmond sublet his flat on Telegraph Hill and, after a period of hotel living and a temporary apartment, moved into the top floor of a building at 55th Street and 6th Avenue in New York; "right at ground zero," he said. He lived there the rest of his life, twenty-one stories up from his favorite neighborhood restaurant, the French Shack, and within easy striking distance of clubs, concert halls, book stores, record shops, museums and galleries. Exchanges of letters with his parents following the move concerned arrangements for shipping his belongings east, investments being handled for him by Bancroft, and further changes to "Late Lament,' for which his father apparently wrote lyrics: "If you have them already printed up I can put the changes on with tape."
"Waddye mean 'putting changes on in tape'?" Emil replied. "Wotta sloppy way to turn out music. Play my copy over carefully and mark the places I got wrong and return... and I will correct my original."10 [Emil Breitenfeld to Paul Desmond,
July 25, 1960] Paul's father was still teaching him.
George Avakian, who had produced the Brubeck Quartet's recordings, left
to guide Warner Bros. Records' efforts to match Columbia 's success with albums. Teo Macero oversaw the Time Out sessions for Columbia . Avakian's mission at Warner Bros, was to develop the pop album side of the business, but when Desmond told him that he was interested in recording on his own again, Avakian paved the way for the first album under Desmond's leadership since the quartet sessions with Don Elliott in 1956. This time, rather than another horn, Desmond brought in Jim Hall as his partner and harmonic foil. Since 1953, when Hall was in the audience at the Brubeck Oberlin concert, the young guitarist had graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music and made a name for himself in Columbia with Chico Hamilton, Jimmy Giuffre, Hampton Hawes and Ben Webster. Now he was an important player on the Los Angeles jazz scene. New York
Hall is a masterly instrumentalist whose influence among other jazz guitarists of his generation is equaled only by Wes Montgomery's. He has the deep respect of guitarists of all categories. Hall matched Desmond in subtlety of harmony, rhythm and melodic phrasing. His soloing and accompaniments covered the range from single-note lines and chords so quiet they were nearly subliminal, to billowing harmonic abstractions. Hall's and Desmond's forays into counterpoint tended more toward quiet conversations than the Bach-inspired fugal escapades of the Brubeck Quartet. "I Get a Kick Out of You" is a prime example of Desmond's ability to sustain long, logical lines of melodic invention laced with wit. His passionate solo on "For All We Know," one of his favorite ballads, previews the later transformation of the song's harmonies into "Wendy," his second best known composition. The bassist and drummer for the Warner Bros, recording were Percy Heath and Connie Kay, half of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Both would be with Desmond and Hall in later adventures.11 [The Warner Bros. album was long out of print as an LP in the
, then emerged as a Japanese import CD, Warner Bros. WPCR-506 and, under the title of East of the Sun, as Discovery DSCD-840] US
"Paul hated the album title and cover, Avakian said. "It was First Place Again, illustrated by a re-touch job of a football cheering section holding up colored placards. The Warners promotion department hoped to cash in on Paul's annual victories in the Down Beat and Metronome polls."
While the "Take Five" phenomenon was in gestation following the Time Out sessions, the Brubeck Quartet recorded frequently and toured at home and overseas. Brubeck began retiring his debt and building up his financial reserves. The recordings included "Dialogues for Jazz Combo and Orchestra" by Brubeck's composer brother Howard, with Howard's old friend and fellow student Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. The "Dialogues" is a four-part work with demanding writing for the orchestra, spirited exchanges between the Philharmonic and the Quartet, drum breaks for Morello and plenty of solo space for Brubeck and Desmond. Brubeck points to Desmond's solo in the "Andante-Ballad" movement as a demonstration of the remarkable accuracy and quickness of his ear.
"In the fourth bar of Paul's solo, a Philharmonic trombone player misses a note. It was supposed to be a B-flat and he plays a B-natural. And at the beginning of the fifth bar—a split second later—Paul weaves it right into the solo, so quick that you hardly know somebody made a mistake. Paul made that mistake sound right."
There was also a remarkable 1960 encounter between the Quartet and Jimmy Rushing, the singer who graced the greatest of Count Basic's bands in the late thirties and early forties. Rushing sang in peak form throughout his career and, if anything, gained power and artistry in his last decade. The Brubeck & Rushing album is one of the best of his later years and finds Desmond inspired, playing obbligato behind Rushing and soloing on tunes from his repertoire. Only one of the eleven songs is a blues in form, but Rushing filled the studio with his ethos. The music is infused with joyous blues feeling, right down to Desmond's raucous tag to "There'll Be Some Changes Made."12 [Brubeck & Rushing is on compact disc, Columbia CK 65727]
In 1960, Down Beat editor
Gene Lees emceed the first—and only—Indiana Jazz Festival, in . The bands included the Evansville Dave Brubeck Quartet, the Paul Winter Sextet and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Lees recalled that the festival was sponsored by an oil man named Hal Lobree, who invited the musicians to a party at his house after the Brubeck group performed. Brubeck, a dedicated non-party-goer, was somehow persuaded to attend. He, Desmond and Lees got into a car with a driver provided by Lobree.
"Paul and I just had this great affinity for each other. This is a vivid memory of it, the night Desmond and I nearly got us all killed," Lees said. "Lobree gave the driver instructions how to find his house and told us, 'Now if you get there before the rest of us and the door is locked, there's a window at the side. Just open it and go in/ So, we got to what looked like it must be the place, a very large, substantial home, and Desmond and I went up, and there was nobody there, no lights on inside. We went around to the side and found a window and opened it. I had a leg over the window sill, but all of a sudden a light went on upstairs, and I saw a man's legs coming down the stairs, and a shotgun. I said, 'Run like hell, Paul, we're in the wrong house/ It's unlikely that you've ever seen Desmond run, but I did that night. So here were Desmond and I pelting down this guy's driveway and piling into the back seat of the car on top of Brubeck. I said to the driver, 'Get the hell out of here—fast!’
"So, we took off, but we still didn't know how to get to Hal Lobree's house. There were no cell phones in those days. We were trying to find a phone booth. This was in the middle of
corn fields and country roads. We got to one crossroads, and there was a pay phone near a store that was closed for the night. It was pitch black, really dark. The corn was maybe not as high as an elephant's eye, but it was certainly higher than Desmond and me. We couldn't see anything but corn, standing there waiting for the driver to find out where we're supposed to be. Desmond started telling me the plots of all those Road Runner cartoons, along with sound effects. 'Beep-beep.' He was an absolute devotee of those cartoons. He knew those Roadrunner cartoons backwards and forwards. 'Beep-beep.' He's doing all of this, and I'm falling down laughing. We never did find the party." Indiana
Desmond and Lees did locate another party to which they were invited at the
festival. It was, in Lees's description, "an inconceivably dull boor-zhwa party, evident on entering the door," and the evening's refreshment was beer, served in cans whose tops had been removed. Desmond's drink, even in an emergency, was never beer, and his choice of companions never boors. He took stock of the situation, sidled up to Lees and said in his quiet conspiratorial drawl, "Wellll—split city." Indiana
After four years of managing the Brubeck group, Mort Lewis in 1960 accepted an offer to guide the fortunes of The Brothers Four, Phi Gamma Delta fraternity members from the
who turned professional folk singers and had a huge hit record called "Greenfields." Their success, and the Lewis connection, inspired Desmond to suggest that he and his father cash in on the phenomenon. University of Washington
Incidentally, if you'd really like to make a fortune, get the LP's of the Brothers Four on Columbia (charge it to me; it's deductible) and see if it suggests anything you could write for them—either original or rewritten PD folk-type songs. They're pretty much the property of Mort Lewis, our ex-road manager & general flunky, and out of all the current successes from our we-knew-them-when bin (Johnny Mathis,
Trio) are by far the most likely to really do something of yours or mine if it made sense. (Their initial single for Kingston , "Greenfields," has almost but not quite sold a million records to date. A few simple songs for them and you'll never have to sing at the temple again.)13[Paul Desmond to Emil Breitenfeld, March 8, 1961.] Columbia
Honest to God, I had no intention of writing any more songs. But like I said I lie in bed in the morning and the words and music come into my head. For years I used to go over an old German folk song and just for laughs try to translate it into English, and when you mentioned folk song this popped into my mind again. So I got a Brothers Four LP and listened to it and eventually came up with the enclosed. The music is different, also the lyrics, all I really stole was the idea, so you might call it an original composition. Would you care to see the original German version with a literal translation? I thought not.
Anyway if they can use it you can put your name on it, with Copyright 1961 by Desmond Music Inc. to boost your claim for a
BMI franchise. If not, throw it away and skip the whole thing. Besides, I LIKE singing in the temple.14 [Emil Breitenfeld to Paul Desmond, March 20, 1961.]
There is no sign of the song in Paul's files. The Brothers Four discography lists no piece by father or son.
In June of 1961, the Quartet played two weeks in
, "to buck up the natives/' Desmond wrote his father. That was the beginning of his love affair with the island. He would visit there on vacation several times. That fall they went to Jamaica Europe. He wrote his parents about the band's adventures in an isolated part of near Bavaria 's border with Germany . Czechoslovakia
One brief exchange you might like—we played a place called Selb, sort of a chic dish factory (Rosenthal china), very remote, landscape foggy and desolate ("Baron Frankenstein, the villagers are at the gate; they demand that you stop these experiments"). Most of the workers have never been to
(1 1/2 hours) or Nuremberg (3) but Rosenthal kindly brings imported mummers from Outside two or three times a year and they all come by, stare robotically and go back and bake their ash-trays. After the concert, a compulsory party with the executives and their creaking wives. (Which nobody in the group had the faintest inclination towards, it having been a really ridiculous week. Up at five, much traveling, two concerts a night, etc.) But they made such a thing out of it that we all went, expecting to have a quiet drink or two and then vanish. Turns out to be a whole formal dinner party. Sort of family ritual where we don't quite know the rules (not that any of us were ready for any of this anyway. We were all falling asleep on the boiled potatoes.) Sherry in the lounge. Sweeping on into the dining room with the partner on the arm and all. (Two wives somehow ended up partnerless due to complex logistics: complete and almost touching consternation, like going to the door at and Munich
there's Ed Murrow with a camera). One quartet member to each two tables. Many courses. Much hopeless conversation. My one effort to liven things up didn't work out too well—I was with a bunch of sort of German Germans, happened to mention original name is Breitenfeld.
"Oh, your parents then are from
"No. . .actually, it was my grandparents. They were from
"How interesting. Where exactly is that?"
"Gee, I thought you knew. You had it last."
Well, you can't win 'em all.
Regards and all, Paul15 [Paul Desmond to Emil Breitenfeld, fall, 1961.]
Desmond's impressions of Selb and its surroundings are somewhat at odds with the impressionistic free verse description on Selb's 2004 municipal web site:
Look, taste, smell
Dark pine woods rustle
Small streams cheerfully flow
Heaps of granite masses pile up
Mysterious morning mist
The smell of freshly
Meadows in bloom
While he was on tour in
, Desmond saw his friend Herb Geller for the first time in a decade. Geller's pianist wife Germany had died in 1958. He moved to Lorraine in the early sixties. Berlin
"I was playing at a club called The Jazz Gallery in
West Berlin,' Geller said, "and Paul came in with John Tynan, the critic. I asked him to sit in, and he didn't want to. He liked my playing and always complimented me. He said, 'You're one of the last of the beboppers' or something like that. Then, I didn't see him for a long time, until after I moved to ." Hamburg
Before the Quartet dissolved, Geller and
were to play a part in a strange interlude in Desmond's life. Hamburg
With "Take Five" firmly dominant on the pop music charts, the Brubeck Quartet found itself increasingly in demand despite the crowding-out effect of rock and roll. Since 1955, rock had expanded from its specialty niche in popular music to overtake the folk music trend of the late fifties and rule the recording and concert business. Yet, the Brubeck group continued to be a major attraction on the college concert circuit, among the young adults who had become the Quartet's fans since its first successes in the Oberlin and Jazz Goes To College days, and with listeners of all ages attracted by "Take Five." A new generation invited Desmond, Brubeck, Wright and Morello into its musical milieu along with Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and The Supremes.
The world was changing. Abroad and in our own hemisphere, Cold War tensions built. A metastasis was taking place in
Asia. In 1962, President Kennedy increased the number of US military advisers in from 3,200 to 12,000. In October of that year, the Viet Nam and the United States Soviet Union faced off in the Cuban missile crisis. The Berlin Wall had been up for a year. The civil rights struggle in the South was making itself felt throughout the nation. In Desmond's beloved , the San Francisco literary counter-culture of the fifties began to morph into the North Beach Haight-Ashbury non-literary activist counter-culture of the sixties. Through that period of burgeoning turmoil, the Dave Brubeck Quartet continued to tour, its popularity continued to grow, and Desmond continued to meet his public with as much aplomb as he could muster. An article from the period captures a typical backstage interlude.
Take Five with Paul Desmond Or an Intermission Spent at Wit's End
By Doug Ramsey
During much of the summer,
Dave Brubeck keeps his cheerful band of music makers on the cross-country trail from outdoor concert to tent show to county fair, helping to satisfy suburban 's newfound, fashionable need for jazz. America
The crowd at the summer jazz concert, which is not to be mistaken for the larger and more confusing jazz festival, is composed of college students who would much rather hear Johnny Mathis but are too cool to admit it, local distributors for Columbia Records, drummers who come to watch Joe Morello's feet, and actors who will do a "Broadway" musical in the tent that night and have nowhere to go following afternoon rehearsal.
Not long ago at a performance in the Musicarnival tent in
, near Warren, Ohio , Brubeck broke into what for him was a frenzy of good-natured chatter. Cleveland
"We were at the
Hollywood Bowl last night, the night before, at the Aqua Theater in San Francisco the previous three evenings.. . That's a vacation, three nights in the same town . . . Seattle on Monday and a week ago on The Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan brought us on for New Jersey
three minutes at the end of the show. That gave us a chance to watch the acrobats. You have to be there to appreciate it. Sullivan likes to run them through their act five or six times to decide if he'll use them or cut the bit out altogether. It's kind of exhausting. There was a fella there who did back flips with a set of drums. I didn't think he'd make it when the show went live.
"Well, enough of this. On with the music."
At intermission, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond expressed mild amazement at his friend's oratory.
"Really quite garrulous. Came on like Mort Sahl.
Dave's punchy— no sleep."
An attractive blonde approached. The interest in Desmond's eyes turned to curiosity when she asked what kind of horn and mouthpiece he uses.
"The horn is a Selmer and the mouthpiece is a Gregory," he answered. "It was invented by Pope Gregory. Do you play alto?"
The girl said no, giggled and edged away into the crowd. A pair of young brothers arrived, programs in hand, and asked Desmond the whereabouts of Gene Wright. They wore identical striped blazers and were around five and seven years old. Desmond didn't know but said he thought the bassist might be in the dressing room. The young fans ran, yelling, at top speed toward the low building housing the dressing room, ten feet away.
Desmond and an old friend were about to reminisce, but one of the Musicarnival actresses had a question.
"I don't want to show my ignorance," she chirped, "but do you know what you're going to play before you sit down, or do you just sort of make it up as you go along?"
Desmond gave her a long look to be sure he wasn't the victim of a put-on, decided he wasn't, and explained.
"First of all, I never sit down. But I do try to follow a general plan, which we've all discussed on the plane. Chords and things."
"Oh, you mean sort of like harmony."
"Yeah, something like that."
As Desmond turned to resume his conversation, up shuffled a man easily identifiable as a hippy even before he opened his mouth. He slouched, his eyes were downcast, his dress was conservatively ostentatious.
"Hey, man," he whined, "what about Art? Like is Art in for good after his last bust? I mean, Art's too much and they shouldn't keep him in there."
Desmond explained that he wasn't too familiar with Art Pepper's legal problems but had always admired his playing.
The hippy apparently felt he hadn't made his point, removed his extremely dark glasses and moved closer to whisper in Desmond's ear. Desmond nodded gravely and thoughtfully and watched the hippy slip away toward a hot dog stand.
A Marine Corps private reached out to shake hands. Desmond saluted and introduced him as a youngster who had been attending Brubeck concerts in
since 1956, "always came back after the show,” decided to become a jazz player, and purchased an alto. Desmond told him the uniform was becoming, but: Cleveland
"Why did you do it?"
"My folks didn't understand jazz, so I joined the Corps to get away. Three more years. There's a pretty good band at
." Camp Lejeune
The blonde was back. She asked Desmond what his mouthpiece was made of. He asked if she were collecting the information for Cannonball. The name didn't register. She pointed to a man a few yards away. He stood grinning and waving. Desmond told her the mouthpiece was made of hard rubber. She trotted off dutifully with the answer.
The young autograph hounds returned, reported proudly that they had Wright's autograph and asked Paul for his. They got it, and Desmond used his own name. A few years ago it was his custom to sign all autographs, "Good luck, Chet Baker."
A couple of twenty or so appeared and were introduced by the Marine, who explained that he had been trying to get them to a Brubeck concert for months.
The newcomers said the music was "just great, no kidding." Desmond thanked them very much. Who was the bass player, the man wanted to know, on the Jazz at Storyville album.
"Which one, Fantasy or
"There wasn't any."
Embarrassed silence, interrupted after a few seconds by Desmond. "Bull Ruther was supposed to be there, but he was upstairs asleep in the shower. Later they made it a twelve-inch LP and added a track or two from an air check. I guess Ron Crotty was on them, but I really don't remember."
More silence. The young man decided to try again.
"Well, 'Sunday Afternoon in
' was about the best thing you've done, wasn't it?" Boston
"No, not really."
Intense silence. Equally intense thought by the young man.
"Well, on the back it said you were just warming up for the evening when they recorded that."
"That was just Ralph Gleason warming up for the liner notes."
With that, the fellow said it was nice meeting Desmond, took his girl's arm and retreated, his show of jazz knowledge a failure.
The blonde messenger returned.
"My boyfriend would like to know is that hard rubber mouthpiece specially made and what is its number/'
Desmond told her the number and said it was not a special model but was no longer available. She looked disappointed, walked away and doubled back. She had forgotten the number. Desmond repeated it. She returned to her companion, who waved to Desmond. Desmond waved back. The messenger said something to her boyfriend and pointed at Desmond. Desmond pointed back. They walked away.
Others walked up to the altoist and asked about the size of his mouthpiece and the inevitable "Where do you go from here?" After answering the questions about his instrument and accessories and repeatedly explaining where the group was to play next, Desmond excused himself.
"See you next time," he announced.
He backed into the dressing room, smiling, and disappeared.16 [Down Beat,
October 11, 1962. The word ‘hippy’ is used in its original sense, to describe a fan immersed in the subcultural trappings of the Jazz life, the sort of person immortalized in Dave Frisberg’s song, ‘I’m Hip’ (“I even call my girlfriend, “man,” ‘cause I’m hip.’). The flower child metamorphosis of the word into ‘hippie’ came three or four years later]
As the Quartet's success grew, Paul's plan to one day return to
faded into the background, as he explained to his father. San Francisco
Unhappiest news of the year is that we may not get back to
(to stay, that is) for another year or more. (If it's any consolation, we're making more money than ever before and it shows no signs of letting up. Which of course is the whole idea). But if those people ever move out of the apartment I guess we should just forget it and either have Bekins put everything in storage or sell it.17 [Paul Desmond to Emil Breitenfeld, San Francisco March 8, 1961].
To which Emil replied:
The fact that you are to stay in the East isn't by any means "unhappiest news of the year" unless you're homesick...for what? When you can live on your investments, come back. Otherwise there isn't much here for you except the weather.18 [Emil Breintenfeld to Paul Desmond,
March 13, 1961].
George Avakian's stay at Warner Bros, was short. He accepted a longstanding offer to run the popular music department of RCA Victor. "When I went to RCA, I thought I'd started something with Paul and he was anxious to keep it going/' Avakian said. Desmond may have been anxious, but he wanted to be sure that all of the pieces were in place.
I still haven't signed with Avakian but the deal currently is hovering at a cash advance of $3750 each for two albums a year, or three if I leave
Dave, for three years, with an option of two years at $5000 per album. We're currently dickering about fringe benefits and all.19 [Ibid.$3,750 in 1961 US dollars is equivalent to $23,077 in 2003 dollars. As for purchasing power, what cost $1.05 in 2003, cost 17 cents in 1961.]
The dickering concluded on those financial terms in April, 1961, with a contract that resulted in a series of recordings firmly establishing Desmond as a leader in his own right, even though his partnership with Brubeck would continue for years. In the meantime, he settled into life in
." New York