Down Beat - October 19, 1951
New Dave Brubeck Combo
Scores Solid Hit in L.A.
... Paul Desmond plays nothing but alto sax as far as we could determine, but he plays lots of alto -- enough to chase Brubeck's agile right hand all over the piano.... -- Hal Holly
Down Beat - November 30, 1951
Dave Brubeck: Crazy Chris (7/10), Somebody Loves Me (7/10), (Fantasy 517)
Chris as the composer credit indicates (it's attributed to three guys named Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria) is Columbus of Sing, Sing, Sing fame. The quartet with Brubeck on piano; Fred Dutton, bass and bassoon, Herb Barman, drums, and Paul Desmond, alto sax, is sparked by the latter's now-Konitz, now-Parker-like playing.
It opens with contrapuntal byplay between bassoon and alto, then moves into a well-integrated, swinging solo by Desmond. Brubeck's piano breaks the mood, and it almost falls apart while he plays around with boogie figures in the left hand and chords in the right.
Desmond takes off on Somebody, too, a gay, pretty thing with a fine beat from Dutton's bass and Barman's drums. A satisfying enmeshing ensemble ends it all, contrapuntally again. -- Pat Harris
Down Beat - March 21, 1952
Dave Brubeck: A Foggy Day (5/10), Lyons Busy (4/10) (Fantasy)
In an attempt to give Foggy Day "form", the Brubeck quartet dresses it up in a little arrangement replete with tempo changes and Bachian sounds that appear to be used for effect's sake only and afford little interest in a jazz sense. Sound without substance.
Paul Desmond's alto enters in a downright silly vein, as he repeats a senseless trill first stated by Dave. Brubeck follows with a solo that doesn't arrive at any place in particular, then it's back to half-time and a Bach organ-effect ending that while changed slightly from its usual use, is still shopworn.
Down Beat - December 3, 1952
Dave Brubeck Quartet: Look for the Silver Lining (****), This Can't be Love (****) (Fantasy 521), At A Perfume Counter (***), Frenesi (**) (Fantasy 520)
Lining a good tune for revival purposes, induces inspired work by Brubeck and altoist Paul Desmond. There are fuguish moments in the last chorus, and an amusing Paramount production ending. Love has some of Desmond's coolest, smoothest work and some intense, jumpy Brubeck in a curious assortment of styles; in many ways it's one of the most interesting Brubeck items yet.
... Frenesi has Desmond sounding thin and high, as if he wished his alto was a soprano....
Down Beat - July 15, 1953
Brubeck - Desmond: Give a Little Whistle, Lady Be Good, Tea for Two, Over the Rainbow, You Go To My Head (*****) (Fantasy 3-8)
To us, this represents the most spontaneous , evocative jazz Dave's group has ever put on wax. Recorded last October at Storyville in Boston (except Tea , which was made in February) while the group was casually experimenting before an open mike that had a tape recorder at the other end, all the performances came off exceedingly well.
Whistle becomes Lady Be Good in no time flat (the only chord change Brubeck doesn't explore), then Chopinesque, then ends on the old Goodman line, Wholly Cats ("something about the entireness of felines," says Dave). Paul Desmond is stunning on You Go To My Head, blending humor, fluidity, and feeling into a definitive alto sax performance. brubeck on Rainbow shows how he never quits thinking ahead while he plays. His construction is great.
As Nat Hentoff's album notes remind us, "Anyone who has heard Desmond and Brubeck improvise on fugal subjects ... knows the amazing musical empathy these men possess, and empathy that leads to frequently startling mutual inspiration." Every word of it is true.
Down Beat - February 8, 1952
Dave Brubeck Quartet
The Brubeckers at Birdland comprised alto and three rhythm -- an almost impossible basis on which to found any truly noble sounds....
Regarding the quartet objectively (i.e. as if we had never heard the records) we find it one of the pleasanter things heard around Manhatten lately. Brubeck's piano, at times, built up cleverly and had the audience applauding. There were some lightly fugesque ideas that reached their objective without straining too hard, and Paul Desmond's alto had some excellent moments.... -- Len
Down Beat - February 11, 1953
Nearing for Brubeck
And his [Brubeck's] alto saxist, an equally spare youth who is one of the brightest figures in jazz today -- Paul Desmond -- is not going to take more than a year or two to begin winning polls left and right....
Yet it [the quartet] has its oddities. It is again a case where one of the sidemen (in this instance Desmond) seems to be quite superior to the leader as a jazzman, yet the leader is already taking on almost mystic qualities. A cult is fast forming about this man.
Let this not be a carping piece, however. Dave is a skilled musician who plays some astounding chord changes and indulges in some quite wonderful counterpoint with Desmond. That he is sometimes loud and pounding and seemingly at a loss for melodic ideas is probably just one reporter's opinion.... -- Jack
Recorded at Oberlin College, Ohio, in March of this year, this is of the same quality as Dave's Jazz at Storyville but exhibits the more outgoing aspects of the unit's work. It indicates again that the quartet might well avoid recording studios, because none of their formal sessions comes close to the two on-the-scene sets.
Some of this is drizzily far out -- Brubeck's chorus on Foolish Things, for example. It's almost a history of the blues from the first wail to Bartok. It's also a man's life. Then there's Desmond on The Way You Look Tonight extending the potentialities of his horn by sheer will to communicate. Those familiar quotations are from Petrouchka.
The same track contains a demonic Brubeck chorus that builds with almost frightening intensity, Ron Crotty's bass and Lloyd Davis' drums are firmly right all the way but in Perdido, especially, they help propel Paul and Dave into a stomper that would excite a JATP and a Julliard audience equally.
Paul is a swinging introvert again in Stardust and somehow finds a fresh lyrical approach to the song as does Dave in a remarkably structured solo that brings the song more strength and beauty than it intrinsically deserves. To be non-intellectual about this LP, Wow ! ! ! -- Nat Hentoff
As you might expect of any group that features Gerry with a pianoless rhythm section, this unit takes on the personality of a Mulligan quartet. Despite the strong contrast with the Brubeck setting, it seems to me that Paul doesn't play sustantially differently, though he may seem to swing more for those who prefer the simpler background he enjoys here. At all events, the union is a happy one. The interplay between the horns strongly resembles that of Gerry with the various brass men who have teamed with him in the past.
There are a couple of planned unison lines, but arrangement generally is at a minimium. Paul's best track, it seems to me is Wintersong, while Gerry is particularly moving on Body and Soul. Since the next-to-last paragraph of the notes, instead of spelling out the facts, obscures them in a feat of dictionary-swallowing, a translation follows: Standstill is based on the changes of My Heart Stood Still; Wintersong on These Foolish Things; Battle Hymn on Tea for Two; and Fall Out on Let's Fall in Love. -- Leonard Feather
The festival's Thursday night opener was characterized by an invasion of record, film, radio, and television interests, with cameras and microphones scattered throughout the stage and audience areas.
The festival began with characteristic confusion.
Although the starting time for the concert was announced as 8:30 p.m., radio broadcast arrangements forced the Ellington band and Dave Brubeck's quartet to offer America a shirtsleeve sample before the official starting time. As a result, members of the audience entering the park were greeted by the rather baffling sight of the Ellington band or Brubeck quartet performing unannounced.
After a needed intermission, the Dave Brubeck quartet appeared, Brubeck, piano; Paul Desmond, alto; Joe Benjamin, bass, and Joe Morello, drums, conducted an Ellington tour, including visits to Jump for Joy, Brubeck's The Duke, Perdido, Flamingo, C Jam Blues (yes, again), and Take the "A" Train.
Although the group does not quite merit the title of the "Joe Morello quartet," as one critic noted, it was Morello who provided most of the highlights of the set and, for that matter, the entire evening. Displaying impeccable taste and invention in support and as soloist, Morello indicated how valuable he is to the Brubeck group. Brubeck himself, however, had several moments of attractive creation, and Desmond manifested the subtlety and taste for which he has become known. -- Don Gold
Down Beat - March 2, 1972
Caught in the Act: Modern Jazz Quartet / Paul Desmond
December 25, 1971, Town Hall, New York City
Personnel: John Lewis, piano; Milt Jackson, vibes; Percy Heath, Bass; Connie Kay, drums. Guest Artist: Paul Desmond.
The MJQ decked Town Hall with a notably robust holiday spirit Christmas night. Desmond's participation as guest artist was more than Yuletide ornamentation, although he played with balls. Floppy hats, beards, and leather garments embellished the full house. At least a third of the audience was between 18 and 25. Since none of the five musicians is under 40, and there is no rock mystique surrounding them, the clear conclusion is that the young people came to hear some uncompromised and uncompromising jazz music. That's what they heard.
Desmond has recorded frequently with Heath and copiously with Kay and when he walked on stage, their faces lit up in proprietary grins. Lewis also seemed to be anticipating the occasion, crouching over the keyboard, hands at the ready. Jackson looked vaguely skeptical, but that's chronic. Desmond's incomparably clear alto sound inspired applause that lasted through the first several bars of Greensleeves. Although there was a certain stiffness in the performance, it quickly became obvious that Lewis, Heath and Kay are an ideal rhythm section for Desmond. By the time he hit the bridge of the second tune, You Go To My Head, things had relaxed considerably and stayed relaxed through eight more pieces about which the only criticism is that the soloists played too few choruses.
Desmond's celebrated propensity to quote was in check for the evening. (With exceptions: he managed to work in one of his favorite melodies from Petrouchka, and there was a line from the Gerry Mulligan Songbook.) Mostly, however, he just dug in, relishing Lewis's firm, suggestive comping and the buoying support of all that power in reserve built up by Heath and Kay. Valeria was a haunting, enigmatic Lewis piece worthy of further exploration. Desmond and Jackson were outstanding on it [Valeria was not released on the album] and on La Paloma Azul which followed. Desmond was at the peck of his lyricism on the Mexican folk song, which is attractive harmonically it's surprising more jazz players haven't adopted it.
Now the concert took on the aspects of a well-controlled jam session. There were good solos all round on East of the Sun, and a splendid exchange of fours between Jackson and Desmond, the two working together to build what amounted to a fine single solo. It could probably have continued for at least a chorus or two. The melody of Jesus Christ Superstar (that's right) was used to launch the quintet into some stimulating counterpoint; the improvisation was not connected with the changes of the tune, an excellent decision. Back to familiar ground with a ballad both the MJQ and Desmond have recorded and played often, Here's That Rainy Day. Fine solos again with honors going to Jackson.
Then came the piece that should have lasted forever, a blues, Bags' Groove. Desmond applied long lines and that uncanny sense of when to change pace and came up with his most interesting solo of the night, swinging. SWINGING. When his solo had ended there wasn't an immobile right foot in the house. Jackson and Lewis maintained the intensity through their solos, and when the audience applauded for an encore it was more of that they wanted.
But they got (what else?) Take Five. 5/4 time is not a staple of the MJQ but they were relaxed with it. After all these years Desmond, of course, is as comfortable in 5/4 as in smoking jacket, slippers and Herman Miller chair. Take Five worked very well, party as nostalgia, partly as a curiosity because of the combination of players, mostly as first-rate jazz. [Take Five was not included on the album.]
That can he said for the entire concert. There's no guarantee that unusual combinations of master jazz artists will work. But this was a perfect alignment of talent, tastes and temperments among five peers, and the concert was an authentic event, a happy prelude to the quartet's 20th Anniversary and further evidence that Desmond is one of the most original and inventive saxophonists in jazz today. If it wasn't recorded someone should get Desmond and the MJQ into a studio without delay. The Modern Jazz Quintet should be preserved for listeners to come. -- Doug Ramsey
Down Beat - May 11, 1972
Caught in the Act: Brubeck/Mulligan/Desmond/Brubeck
Carnegie Hall, New York City
Personnel: Paul Desmond, alto sax; Gerry Mulligan, baritone sax; Dave Brubeck, piano; Jack Six, bass; Alan Dawson, drums. Darius Brubeck Ensemble: Perry Robinson, clarinet; Brubeck, piano, electric piano, guitar: Richard Bock, cello; Mark Morgenstern, bass; Maruga, drums.
Desmond and Brubeck senior made their first appearance with the Ensemble for a performance of the latter's Forty Days. Then Mulligan returned, the Ensemble disappeared (the choreography was exquisite), and the quintet launched into Things Ain't What They Used To Be. Desmond evoked Johnny Hodges without imitating him. Mulligan added to the Ellington effect by playing his baritone on its stand, just like Harry Carney does. He soloed, however, like Mulligan at his best.
Exit Desmond, while Mulligan and Brubeck played two of Mulligan's pieces, Jumping Bean and Lullabye de Mexico. On Bean, which behaves appropriately to its title, Mulligan soloed stirringly, then roistered around in the lower register behind Brubeck, inspiring him to a brilliant solo. There was beautiful support, applauded by Mulligan, from Six and Dawson on Lullabye.
Exit Mulligan. Enter Desmond for a memorable These Foolish Things. Brubeck's finest playing of the evening was his supersensitive accompaniment of Desmond on this piece. (One of Brubeck's greatest accomplishments is his artistry as an accompanist, and he deserves greater notice for it than he usually gets.) Desmond succeeded in working a quote from My Old Flame into the most unlikely harmonic cranny of Out Of Nowhere, to the delight of Brubeck, who responded with a less subtle but equally funny interpolation of a few bars of The Champ.
Some Moussorgskian invention by Brubeck and Mulligan led Dawson into a long and magnificent drum solo full of mystifying tricks and totally without flash for the sake of flash.
Desmond left his post in the curve of the piano to join Mulligan center stage for a duet, then some spirited three-way improvisation among the sacophonists and the pianist on All The Things You Are. Having apparently wound up his solo on Take Five, Desmond settled back, only to find Brubeck provoking him into further choruses which, after taking an extremely fast and deep breath, he performed splendidly. Then Mulligan, himself no mean provocateur, changed Take Five into a somewhat more rollicking experience. That is he played the hell out of it.
A standing ovation brought an encore by Mulligan, Desmond, Brubeck, Dawson and Six, a blues that can only be described as barrelhouse. It was short, explosive and altogether climactic, and brought another standing ovation. -- Doug Ramsey
... Baker finds an ideal teammate in Paul Desmond, whose light, lyrical alto is the perfect complement to Baker's gossamer trumpet. Both contribute gently swinging solo work, well-seasoned with compelling twists and ideas, subtly but firmly stated.... -- McDonough
In commenting on how he developed his unique alto saxophone sound, Paul Desmond said, "I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a dry martini." In Pure Desmond, the "dry martini" has been further rarefied -- the vermouth has all but vanished!
This consummate set of performances is "pure" Desmond for several reasons. First, there is the use of the melodic and harmonic materials supplied by such exponents of the American popular song as Kern, Porter, and Ellington. Transforming each tune's given elements into personal and compelling interpretations which dazzle because of his romantice tonal warmth and classic structural simplicity, Desmond teases out not only the musical but the extramusical as well. On Mean To Me, for instance, the Desmondian melancholy and hesitancy are so palpable that one feels as if eavesdropping on an intimate conversation. This conjurer's ability to evoke images, atmospheres, and evocative contexts is also exemplified in his rustic yet urbane treatments of Duke's Warm Valley and Kern's Till The Clouds Roll By.
Aside from reaffirming Desmond's position as one of improvised music's premier lyricists, Pure Desmond also brings to the spotlight the considerable talents of Canadian guitarist Ed Bickert. Recalling the successful collaborations of Desmond and Jim Hall (e.g., Take Ten), Bickert displays the precise kind of warmth, taste, and subtlety required by Desmond's approach. A masterful accompanist, Bickert is also a polished soloist. On Squeeze Me and Rheinhardt's Nuages, Bickert tastefully alternates long liquid single note lines with gently strummed chordal passages much in the manner of the aforementioned Mr. Hall. Completing the rhythm section are Ron Carter on bass and Connie Kay on drums -- their finesse and professionalism are awesome. -- Berg
Edmonton Journal - Thursday, April 15, 1976
CBC Alberta Festival
Paul Desmond still on gentle side of jazz
Paul Desmond has won so many awards for alto expression over the years that reviewing him in concert is not so much a matter of recording what he's like, as it is determining whether today's fans appreciate him anymore.
At the Jubilee Auditorium Wednesday evening, about 1,000 persons paid tribute to the man who, with Dave Brubeck, came close to making a mockery of annual jazz polls. Esquire, Metronome and Downbeat, year after year for what seemed like a quarter of a century, dug up all the old pictures of the artists and heaped high on their shoulders enough congratulatory messages and lofty phrases to stretch roughly around the globe.
And so, in this age of noisy hard-rock and fever-pitch electronic sound, the question "Does this music have a place?" is valid.
And the answer has to be yes.
But it is also beyond question that the Desmond sound dares comparison. It is pure, tasty, catchy, delicate and true. In an age of change, these unique qualities of the artist remain. And how do you improve on perfection?
Wednesday's CBC Alberta Festival presentation lacked fire, a startling change of pace, maybe even provocativeness. But many must have thought, as we did, that just this once, the Desmond ability for creating a peaceful mood, in fact utter relaxation, could not have been surpassed.
The altoman, making Toronto home base these latter years, has taken Canadians guitarist Ed Bickert, bassist Don Thompson and drummer Jerry Fuller and turned them into a closely-knit group that perpetuates music the way he insists it be played.
The quartet rated Four Stars for evoking all the prettiness needed to put over tunes like Darn That Dream, Things Ain't What They Used To Be, I'm Old-Fashioned and Some Day My Prince Will Come, and scored just as heavily when it switched to faster renditions of the samba beat Wave and the prizewinning standard Take Five.
No, Desmond will always represent the gentle side of jazz. And if being modern means anything else, he -- and surely his fans -- wouldn't care to be counted. -- Wyman Collins
Paul Desmond is captured live in Toronto and shows his usual inspiration and his very melodic lyricism. There is little difference between this album and similar ones (quartet live on A&M, "Pure Desmond" on CTI) except for an exceptionally beautiful composition of Desmond's (Audrey) and for Don Thompson's bass solos. The latter have not been edited, hence the longer than average playing time. As a matter of fact, Thompson himself proposed the cutting of his solos -- an excess of modesty as he is one hell of a good bass player. I would even go so far as to say that the only surprises on this record come from him; the rest of the music being mostly predictable -- but so good! -- Jean-Pascal Souque
Toronto Star, January 3, 1998
The Complete Paul Desmond RCA Victor Recordings (RCA Victor 09026-68687-2 (5 CDs) )
Five CDs from the alto saxist who said he wanted to sound like a dry martini contain 55 tracks, 22 of them reflecting Desmond's interest in bossa and performing with strings and woodwinds.
There's no Dave Brubeck presence, but guitarist Jim Hall, drummer Connie Kay and a set of splendid basses help the music sing. -- Geoff Chapman