Altoist Paul Desmond Is Vital Factor
In Success Of Dave Brubeck Quartet
Boston -- An important reason for the evolving success of the Dave Brubeck quartet is the rhythmically lyrical alto of Paul Desmond. Though very much involved with the modern jazz methodology, Paul has created an original, intensely personal style of a caliber equal to such post-Parker innovators as Lee Konitz, Art Pepper, and Charlie Mariano.
Born in 1924, Paul grew up in Berekely, Los Angeles, and New Rochelle. In high school, he started clarinet, switched to alto and later, while at San Francisco State college, began sitting in with local bands.
Three years with the 253rd AGF band, stationed at San Francisco's Presidio, further matured Desmond musically. It was a swinging band and included Dave van Kreidt, "who played tremendous tenor and wrote most of the arrangements." Dave van Kreidt a few years after was to write several important originals for the Brubeck octet.
At this time Paul was being influenced by Lunceford, Ellington, Basie, Goodman, Benny Carter, Art Tatum and "I guess the only unusual one on my personal list was Pete Brown, whose playing I enjoyed immensely."
In 1944 van Kreidt introduced Paul to Dave Brubeck, who was coming through San Francisco on his way overseas as a rifleman. "We went out to the band room for a quick session," Paul remembers, "started playing the blues in B flat, and the first chord he played was G major. Knowing absolutely nothing at the time about polytonality, I thought he was stark, raving mad."
"His appearance at the time supported this point of view admirably. Wild-haired, ferocious-looking, with a pile-driver approach to the piano, and the expression of a surly Sioux. It took much patient explaining by Kreidt and several more listenings before I began to understand what he was up to.
"Since then, he's been the greatest, as far as I'm concerned. When Dave is playing his best, it's a profoundly moving thing to experience, emotionally and intellectually. It's completely free, live improvisation in which you can find all the qualities about music I love -- the vigor and force of simple jazz, the harmonic complexities of Bartok and Milhaud, the form (and much of the dignity) of Bach and, at times, the lyrical romanticism of Rachmaninoff.
"This sort of playing doesn't happen every night and it hasn't happened yet on a record session. Maybe it never will, but it's worth waiting for. When I heard it happen the first time, all the other jazz I had heard and played till then seemed pale and trivial by comparison.
"I'm now in the incredibly lucky position of getting paid to do what I'd rather do than anything else -- playing regularly with Dave. As far as eventual goals are concerned, they're being fulfilled at the moment except that I'd like to be able to play a lot better than I can now.
"If such a thing is possible. I'd like to reach the point where the technical part of playing requires no conscious thought, and all there is to do is think of ideas and listen to them come out of the horn.
"Then I'd like to study theory and fill in some of the gaps in my musical education to the point where I could keep up with Dave when he's playing his best, which will take some doing. I'd like, moreover, to keep playing with the group as long as possible and see what happens. It should be a pretty frightening thing."
Paul is fiercely modest, too much so according to the men he's worked with and those who have heard him play from out front. He is characteristically dissatisfied with his work on records up to now, but allows himself a mild enthusiasm about "Mademoiselle", soon to be released on Fantasy.
There is no doubt in this listener's miond that Paul Desmond is already one of the most creative figures in modern jazz.