Desmond has been in my thoughts today, back to the weeks before his death of lung cancer in 1977 at the age of 52. We talked frequently during that time. Here are two excerpts from Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, then a song that Paul cherished. He and Dave Brubeck played it together nearly from the beginning of their partnership.
A few days before Memorial Day, I got a call in San Antonio. “Hi, it’s me, Desmond,” he began, cheery as ever. After a few minutes we faded into an unusual conversational impasse, a series of commonplace exchanges that reflected what he knew and I suspected. He suggested that we both get mildly bombed on Friday evening and he would call me from Elaine’s.
Jenna had planned a trip to London for late May. Desmond encouraged her to take it. (Steve) Forster was looking after him, helping him get through the days. There was little that doctors could do.
“I was just falling to bits,” Jenna said. “I needed to go away. The day before I left, I went to say goodbye and, frail as he was, he insisted that Steve take him downstairs to the camera shop to buy me one of those Polaroid instant things that had just come out. I got to London and, of course, rang him immediately, and he sounded reasonably good. We had a nice chat. I said I would talk to him the next day. And he said, ‘No, no, don’t call tomorrow. Ring me Tuesday.’ I’ve got friends coming tomorrow, and I want you to relax and enjoy yourself.’”
“When I left on Friday,” Forster said, “I kind of knew that would be the last time I would see him. I felt it, but I wasn’t sure and, in a way, I didn’t want to admit it. But…he was tired. He knew.”
On May 30, Memorial Day, Desmond’s cleaning woman was unable to wake him.
Jack Richardson recalled that Marian McPartland said what many of Desmond’s friends were thinking, “It’s just like Paul to slip quietly away when everyone’s out of town, not to bother anybody.”