Weekend Extra: Desmond Speaks

After three years of keeping his alto saxophone in the closet, in 1974 Paul Desmond finally succumbed to the exhortations of the Canterino family and agreed for the first time in a quarter of a century to play a club date as leader. The Canterino’s club, the Half Note, had moved from lower Manhattan to Midtown. The new proximity was an important factor. “After all,” he told me, “It’s only a couple of blocks away. I can fall out of bed and onto the bandstand.” He hired Jim Hall on guitar, Ron Carter on bass and drummer Ben Riley. For two weeks, they played opposite the Bill Evans Trio.
Desmond enjoyed it so much that he wanted to do more quartet playing. He had been thinking about going to Canada. Hall told him about a Toronto guitarist named Ed Bickert and a club called Bourbon Street. Following negotiations, he went into the club with Bickert, bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke, later replaced by Jerry Fuller. It was the group that became his beloved Canadian Quartet, and he played with them the rest of his life.
The young woman speaking with Desmond in the January, 1976, video below is the skilled interviewer Mary Lou Finlay, then the host of the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s Take 30. In the full program, the actor and jazz enthusiast Paul Soles fills Finlay in on Desmond’s career and on jazz, about which she confesses to know nothing. Then, in a pre-recorded studio video, the Canadian quartet plays “Wendy,” followed by Finlay chatting with Paul live. It is a pity that YouTube doesn’t offer the full segment, but at least we have a rare instance of Desmond speaking on television. The clip picks up after Finlay has asked him why the Dave Brubeck Quartet disbanded in 1967.

Desmond recorded this album with the Canadian Quartet at Bourbon Street. Chapters 32-34 of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond cover the Canadian period and the final 16 months of Desmond’s life. He died on Memorial Day,1977.

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Comments

  1. Denis Ouellet says

    My God, what a wonderful interview. Thank you so much Doug for bringing it up.I don’t remember watching it on CBC at the time. Really great to hear Paul talk. Of course Mary Lou Finlay is world class. Totally beautiful.
    Where is the whole interview please ?
    (I presume that it is in the archives of the CBC. I’m attempting to find out whether it is available on the web or otherwise. — DR)

  2. Rick Breitenfeld says

    Many, many thanks! It was as if he were here again — with his characteristic ready smile, that dimple, the obvious intelligence, the familiar diffidence…. What a treat.
    (Mr. Breitenfeld, Paul Desmond’s cousin, was the source of much material for my biography of Desmond, “Take Five.” — DR)

  3. says

    Doug, this exchange between Paul and Mary Lou Finlay is absolutely priceless. Thanks for finding and posting it! I felt I got to know Paul fairly well through interviews with you, Jim Hall, Dave and others close to him. But seeing and hearing him speak so candidly about himself is amazing. Now I really feel like I’ve met him. And I am also delighted to read George Avakian’s name here too! Another GMOJ (great man of jazz).

  4. Dr. Mike Baughan says

    Would love to have had a Dewar’s or two w/ him there @ Elaine’s! Great find.
    Many thanks again, Mr. Ramsey & both Mr. Breitenfields!

  5. Jenna Cox says

    Within a wealth of memories, this has given me back the one thing I thought was completely lost to me…his voice!
    I remember this last innocent time (before we learned of his illness) so well as I couldn’t be there due to work commitments and Paul taped each gig and then rang me every night in the wee small hours to play it all back so I would feel I was there. But that, I think, is all in Doug’s amazing biography.
    Thank you so very much for posting this and all the other Desmond-abilia. They were the best of times.
    (The story of Jenna and Paul is in the final chapters of “Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond.” — DR)

  6. Joe Gawel says

    Thanks for posting the information for this on the Brubeck listserv. It’s a treasure. I can’t recall having heard Desmond speak before–certainly not for four minutes.

  7. Paul Wood says

    It remains a mystery to me just exactly what the relationship between Desmond and Brubeck was really like and why it took so long for the former to return to the club scene.
    Judging from this interview one gets the feeling Desmond isn’t all that comfortable in the public eye unless he’s got an alto in his hands.
    It might be interesting to some of your readers to check out the recent interview with Dave Brubeck on Marc Myers excellent blog: JazzWax. That piece does shed some light on the different personalities of the pianist and the saxophonist. In the final analysis I guess it’s the music they made that counts.

  8. Denis Ouellet says

    Listening to Paul talk, made me go back in time. Of course Paul’s name will always be connected with Dave Brubeck. But to me my first listening was more intriguing.
    A long time ago(early 60′s) when I was in my teens, our music teacher came in class and told us that today’s lesson would be “listening”.So to everybody’s amazement he put a record on the turntable and suddenly the whole classroom was filled with the sound of Paul and Gerry.I was mesmerized by the sound and the interplay. The music grabbed me right there. I was hooked. Of course after the class ended, I talked to the teacher and told him I wanted to get that record. He ordered it and it is still with me to this day.
    “Two Of A Mind”
    After hearing Paul talk, I feel that he was really the type of person I felt he was. Knowing this only by listening to his music.
    A gentle soul.

  9. says

    Ah well; I would love to have been there, for Bill Evans as well of course. I tried to get Bill to come to my club in Portugal at about that time but was unable to get enough support way down in the Algarve. I also thought Mary Lou Finlay er…gorgeous.(oops, I nearly said ‘absolutely’!). Liked that clip too about English ‘usage’. But then it seems English in particular is/has always been prone to misuse from the purist’s point of view, viz. American English with words like ‘gotten’ – this in fact old West Country Puritan usage. Thus the purist can be seen to change his spots as time passes. However I agree that the use of all those words and expressions that have become common padding in place of anything intelligent to say are extremely irritating. Words and music – what grand subjects!

  10. says

    I went to refer to it again last night, and the video was replaced with a notice saying “This video contains content from Canadian Broadcasting Corp., who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.”
    Likewise on YouTube….
    (Argggh. The Rifftides staff will see if we can break through the CBC bureaucracy to find whether the clip may be reinstated. — DR)