Story From Sirok

Rifftides and Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond are drawing responses from a cross section of jazz people in the United States and around the world, some from as far away as Australia and New Zealand. Norman Davis sent a message from the eastern Hungarian village of Sirok, famous for its ruined ancient castle. He retired there from England after a career in insurance. Mr. Davis’s story of hearing Paul Desmond for the first time, and the lasting impact that discovery made, is not unlike the experiences of countless others for whom music is an essential part of lives necessarily focused on other pursuits; making a living, for instance. Mr. Davis wrote:

I first encountered Paul Desmond’s playing in the Dave Brubeck Quartet back in 1954 when I was doing my National Service (draft) in the Royal Air Force. My musical interest up to then had been purely classical but I was bowled over by Paul’s inventiveness, his tone and his almost classical restraint. At that time, being new to jazz, I found the style of Charlie Parker and the others of the bop scene too raucous and seemingly undisciplined. I know better now, but it’s fair to say that Desmond’s style formed a bridge into a new world. But he was not just a bridge; he remains for me one of the truly great jazz saxophonists whose playing is as fresh now as it was 50 years ago. I saw him with the quartet in London in the late 50s – a remarkable experience.

My early encounter with Desmond encouraged me to buy and learn the alto saxophone and, with friends, form a small dance band until work in the insurance business demanded all my time. I later took up the clarinet, mainly to play classical music. Toward the end of our time in England I played in the local symphony orchestra, a clarinet quartet and other ensembles when opportunities arose. Over here, I managed to meet a flautist and pianist with whom I play classical trios mostly arranged by myself from other instruments. I am strictly an amateur player of a decent but not professional level. I also play (purely for my own amusement) the tárogató, a wooden Hungarian single-reed instrument inspired by the soprano saxophone. Regrettably, the alto does get much of an airing these days.

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