My life as a saxophonist wouldn’t be complete without the early influence of Paul Desmond. My 8th grade band director loaned me Brubeck’s “Time Out” and I remember listening to it over and over again. That sound, so unique and pretty. In high school it become somewhat unfashionable to dig Desmond, especially as I worked on being a strong lead player. Cannonball Adderley became my primary model for most of that period.
Nonetheless in college I still retained a lot of Desmond’s influence, something my teacher Jerry Bergonzi would frequently remind me. A point of pride actually.
Nothing I’ve read says more about Desmond than this story told by Anthony Braxton in “Forces in Motion”
I said hello to him in the street before. He turned around and looked at me - I said, thank you very much for your music, sir. He said, well - thank you. And suddenly I understood everything, because while I was talking to him I was aware of the fact that he was way over here. I mean, he was not there, in the sense that we talk of there. He had already plotted out five seconds ahead of time what he was gonna do, and you could hear it in his music. It looked like he was a very slow player, but in fact he was making very quick decisions, and because he understood his craft so well his music has this air of easiness about it, as if it’s just kind of floating. But, oh, the man is very ahead, a profound thinker. He was far ahead of what you heard: what you heard had been edited completely, only the essence remained. Desmond understood how to get to the point quicker than most players ever learn. This is a lightning-fast improviser, who understood sound logic and how to prepare the event.
My personal favorite solo of Desmond’s would have to be on "Alice in Wonderland" from Dave Digs Disney. It’s like a perfectly-crafted composition, but better. Jazz Goes To College is also incredibly exciting. And Desmond’s insightful interview with Charlie Parker in 1954 is a crucial historical document.
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