Paul Desmond On The Nature Of Fame

Ted O’Reilly, the Toronto broadcaster, sent a recording of an interview he did with Paul Desmond in 1975. O’Reilly asked if there was a moment when Desmond realized the astounding degree of popularity the Dave Brubeck Quartet had achieved. Not really, Paul said, but that reminded him of a favorite question.

We were on a State Department tour in ’59, and we landed in Ismir, Turkey, and there was this huge hoop-de-do at the airport. They had a band playing one of our tunes, and a whole bunch of people; jazz fans and critics and whatnot. We were schlepping all of the equipment and baggage and everything to the hotel. Press conferences and interviews and pictures and all of that went on for an hour or so. Then, ultimately, it all subsided and I was sitting in the bar. There was nobody much left except this one guy who came up and said, “How long have you been famous?”

I said, “Well! That’s sort of hard to pin down. I suppose it would depend on whether you
start with the Columbia records or the concerts and Fantasy. Oh, I don’t know, I guess maybe 1954 or somewhere around there.”

And then he said, “What’s your name?”

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  1. Hal Strack says

    Paul would find that experience ironic, humorous and worthy of recounting. The story certainly sounds a lot like Paul, and goes a long way toward describing his outlook and attitude. He had a very wry sense of humor, and was not “stuck on himself”. Not only an incomparably refined and creative musician, in most every other respect he was truly “one of a kind”, for whom this planet has come up with no serial replacement. It was a privilege, honor and pleasure to know him. My only personal regret is that I did not attempt, while he was still with us, to tell him more how truly great I thought that he was, no matter how difficult it was to get him to listen to and accept praise.
    (Hal Strack was Desmond’s fellow saxophonist when they were teenagers and remained his close friend through and beyond Brigadier General Strack’s career in the US Air Force. — DR)