It has become a Rifftides tradition to remember Paul Desmond’s birthday. The 86th anniversary of his birth coincides with the American celebration of Thanksgiving, as did the 52nd, his last. For the occasion in 1976, Devra Hall cooked a turkey dinner for Desmond and her parents, Jim and Jane. She took the photograph that afternoon. Here’s the story of the end of that part of the day, told by Devra in Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond.
“It was a very quiet dinner. Paul was not feeling well, but he was clearly happy not to be home alone. He didn’t have to say a word around my folks. They talked a blue streak, usually, but he was just very comfortable. My fondest recollection is that I made him dinner on his last birthday.”
The senior Halls and Desmond went back to Jim and Jane’s apartment when they left Devra’s, and on the way stopped at the Village Vanguard. Thelonious Monk was performing there. Between sets, they all gathered in the Vanguard’s kitchen, the closest thing the club has to a Green Room. In the book, Jim tells about it.
It was the most coherent conversation I ever had with Thelonious, in the kitchen with Paul and me and Thelonious. I had a sort of nodding acquaintance with Monk, but he and Paul really connected. I’m not even sure what they talked about, just standing around in that kitchen, going through old memories and things. It was nice.
I wish that Desmond and Hall had sat in with Monk at the Vanguard. Alas, Paul almost never sat in with anyone, including the night he and I went to hear Bill Evans and Bill all but begged him to play. But that’s another story. It’s in the book. In lieu of a collaboration with Monk, let’s listen to Desmond solo in a relatively little known performance of “Stardust,” a tune that he and Dave Brubeck recorded several times over the years. This was 1953, a productive and creative year for the early edition of the Brubeck quartet.
If you saw a slightly different version of this post here last year, please be patient. You’re likely to see it again next year.