Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Paul Desmond - The Complete 1975 Toronto Recordings- Mosaic Records

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Beauty is an undefinable thing. Not everyone even hears it but for those that do, it's probably the main reason they really love the music they love. Paul's playing was never about how he could play the saxophone. He had lots of chops but his playing was always about the feeling and the beauty of the music and I believe that this is what makes him one of the greatest players of all time.”
- Don Thompson, double bass, piano, and vibes

“Paul's longtime associate Jim Hall was his guitarist at the Half Note, but Hall was unable to go to Toronto when Desmond accepted a gig there at the club called Bourbon Street. Hall recommended Ed Bickert (1932-2019), often mentioned with Lennie Breau and Sonny Greenwich as among Canada's finest guitarists. Don Thompson was the bass player in Desmond's quartet at Bourbon Street. A pianist, composer and superb bassist, Thompson is also a gifted recording engineer. Every night at Bourbon Street, he taped the Desmond group. He has worked with Breau and Greenwich and says, "I played with all of those great guitarists, but for Paul and his music, Ed Bickert was the perfect fit. It was a match made in heaven." The heavenly match led to Bickert's being the guitarist on the 1974 CTI album PURE DESMOND, produced by John Snyder and recorded in New York in the fall of 1974 with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Connie Kay. Thus, despite the personnel differences, PURE DESMOND was the prototype of what became Desmond's Canadian quartet.

Thompson had an assignment to capture Desmond's quartet lor the A&M Horizon label. A&M issued the resulting album on vinyl, and later on CD, as THE PAUL DESMOND QUARTET LIVE. He recorded Desmond in March of 1975 and again in October and November of that year. Expanding on Bickerl's compatibility with Desmond and on the guitarist's abilities in general, Thompson said, "Ed was famous for knowing all the tunes in all the keys. We had no music and never rehearsed. There were a couple of endings we discussed before going on, and Paul had a funny little cue that he'd play to let us know the next chorus would be stop-lime. Other than that, we'd go on stage, he'd call a tune and the key, and we'd just play. These are possibly the best recordings there are of Ed Bickert.”
- Doug Ramsey, author, Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond

These excerpts from Doug Ramsey’s booklet notes provide the background for the evolution of Mosaic Records’ latest boxed set - Paul Desmond - The Complete 1975 Toronto Recordings [MD7-269] about which you can locate order information by going here.

Don Thompson, the bassist on these dates who recorded them in performance [Chad Irschich is the Mosaic recording engineer], also provided an overview of these sessions in the booklet that accompanies the set. We wrote to Don and to Michael Cuscuna who produced them along with Don and Chad and requested their permission to reprint Don’s notes on these pages and they graciously gave their approval.

These recordings capture many brilliant performances by Paul less than two years before his passing on May 30, 1977. They are an everlasting testimony to his uniqueness as a musical artist.

“Thompson is now the last survivor of the Paul Desmond Canadian Quartet. In preparation for this Mosaic release, he has restored and remixed his original tapes so they can be heard by Desmond's longtime fans as well as a new generation of listeners. These recordings offer further proof thai the legacies of jazz musicians extend far beyond their mortal lives. They remain with us as long as their music can be heard.”
— Thomas Cunniffe August 2019, Mosaic Set Postscript

 © -Don Thompson/Mosaic Records, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.

“Back in the 1970s there was a club in Toronto that would regularly bring in major artists to play a couple of weeks with a local Toronto rhythm section. I was the bass player (sometimes piano player) in one of the two house rhythm sections and I played there many times with such people as Jim Hall, Art Farmer, Milt Jackson, Clark Terry, James Moody and many others. In 1974 I got a call to play there with Paul Desmond.

Paul had always been a favorite of mine. When I was about 15, still in high school, I had a band (alto sax, piano and drums) and we played a lot of the Brubeck hits of the day including BROTHER CAN YOU SPARE A DIME?, A FINE ROMANCE and PENNIES FROM HEAVEN. I wrote out Paul's solos for my alto player who was not an improviser but was a good reader with a pretty sound.

The first jazz concert I ever went to was in 1957 (I was 17) and there were five groups on the program. Stan Getz, Shorty Rogers, George Shearing, Billie Holiday and Dave Brubeck. It was pretty silly having five groups playing about 20 minutes each and the only things I remembered after the concert were Paul's playing and a bongo solo by Armando Peraza who was playing with George Shearing. Paul got to me then as he always has just by playing so pretty and without any show biz jive.

As I understand it, when I got the call in 1974 the Brubeck Band had sort of disbanded a couple of years earlier and Paul had not been playing very much, so he really wasn't that keen on coming to Toronto and working with guys he didn't know. He'd recently done a week in New York with a quartet with Jim Hall and he'd asked Jim if he would come to Toronto for the gig but Jim declined, suggesting he try to get Ed Bickert to play guitar along with me on bass and Terry Clarke on drums. Ed was one of the greatest guitarists in Canada along with Sonny Greenwich and Lenny Breau. All three of them lived in Toronto in the early 1970s and I played with all of them but for Paul and his music Ed Bickert was the perfect fit.

Paul came back to Toronto in March 1975 and this time he asked me to record the gig for a live recording on A&M Horizon. We recorded that gig and another week in October and these CDs are the result of those two weeks. We had no music and never rehearsed but there were a couple of endings we discussed before going on to play. He also had a funny little cue that he'd play to let us know the next chorus would be stop-time. Other than that, we'd just go on stage and he'd call the tunes and the key they'd be in and we'd just play.

Ed was famous for basically knowing all the tunes in all the keys. It was impossible to think of a tune he didn't know and I'd been playing with him for four years so I really knew his harmony. These are possibly the best recordings there are of Ed Bickert. He made quite a few recordings but most of them were either as a sideman or under his own name but with music arranged by someone else, so he was usually reading someone else's chords. Ed had an amazing knowledge and understanding of harmony and with no music to read he was free to play whatever harmonies that came into his mind and all those beautiful chords he played were things that he'd figured out and had been playing since the early 1960s.

The tracks with Rob McConnell came about as a result of Ed's father passing away and Ed having to leave town for a couple of nights to deal with things. Rob had been into the club a couple of times to sit in and he and Paul had become friends so rather than trying to get another guitar player we asked Rob to fill in for Ed for the two nights. Paul and Rob played beautifully together and it often sounds like they'd had a rehearsal but it was the same as it was with Ed. Paul would ask Rob what he felt like playing and Rob would suggest, for example MY FUNNY VALENTINE, then they would play it so beautifully it sounded like they had a worked-out arrangement. All they did, in fact, was listen to and watch one another. Just a glance from Paul and Rob would take over the melody for four or eight bars. Then he'd look over to Paul and Paul would take over the melody and they both knew exactly what to play when the other was playing a solo.

Jerry Fuller was so understated and inconspicuous he was often overlooked, but the fact is his playing was a big part of the success of the whole gig. Jerry was a very schooled musician having studied piano and arranging when he was a student at Westlake in Los Angeles. He was also a very good bass player and he knew all the tunes, too. He had a reputation for shouting the chord changes to a bass player who didn't know a tune they were playing and he was always right. I remember sitting with him on a break one night and a young student drummer came over and asked him what it was like playing with Paul. Jerry thought about it and replied "I try to play everything Paul wants me to play and every now and then I play something I'd like to play." Jerry was known for being a power bebop drummer who's playing came right out of Philly Joe Jones but he'd put all that aside when he was playing with Paul. He always played exactly what the music needed.

For me the gig was a most beautiful experience. The music was all very familiar to me and all I had to do was just listen and try to do what the music asked me to do. Paul gave me a solo on every tune whether I wanted it or not and there were many times I was just playing and hoping I didn't mess up what had been up to then, another perfect take.

Working on this project with recording engineer Chad Irschick was another amazing experience. We'd worked together on the mastering of the JIM HALL LIVE CDs that came out on Artists Share and the GEORGE SHEARING AT HOME CD as well as many of my own projects. He is the best engineer I've ever worked with and he cares about the music as much as any musician I know. He hears every note as though he'd played it himself and uses his knowledge as a musician and all the technology he has to make the music come alive. There were a couple of tapes that were unplayable because of a buzz on the bass track but one of the young tech geniuses in the studio spent quite a few hours on it and got rid of every buzzing bass note giving us some of the best tracks we have.

I do think that Paul was one of the real giants of jazz and this is a chance to hear him playing live, having fun with musicians he really enjoyed playing with. For me, the thing that makes someone a really great musician is not technique. It's not hip-ness (tricky patterns on D minor, playing in odd meters, all the stuff that kids learn in college). It has nothing to do with those kinds of things. Everyone knows Charlie Parker and John Coltrane had chops to burn but that's not what made them great. For me it's the feeling and the beauty in their playing that sets them apart from the rest. It's how I feel when I listen to Bird play OLD FOLKS or when I hear Trane play I WANT TO TALK ABOUT YOU. Beauty is an undefinable thing. Not everyone even hears it but for those that do, it's probably the main reason they really love the music they love. Paul's playing was never about how he could play the saxophone. He had lots of chops but his playing was always about the feeling and the beauty of the music and I believe that this is what makes him one of the greatest players of all time.

I can't think of very many musicians in the history of jazz that would have this kind of continuing popularity 42 years after their passing. He was an honest, pure artist who did it all without any kind of ego or show. I don't think he was ever actually trying to do anything. He just did it the only way he could and I'm truly honored to have been a part of his music.”
— Don Thompson July 2019

1 comment:

  1. I love Don's observations on beauty as the key to why Paul (and Chet and Bill Evans and Barry Harris and Pres) are so important to me. It's both the beauty and continuously evolving imagination that drove their improvisations that places them among them my very favorite musicians.


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