Thank You For Paul Desmond

Thumbnail image for Desmond TGing2.jpg 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.

Happy Thanksgiving
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  1. Peter Bergmann says

    Paul is probably up there on a cloud together with Monk and Erik Satie.
    These three would make up a fine conversational trio playing above all a succession of marvellous rests.
    One Dewars to their health. No, three.

  2. Dr. Mike Baughan says

    …………..”One Dewars to their health. No, three.”
    ….and a few Dry Martinis to go along w/ those 3!
    Maybe that’s the reason DBQ’s killer live version of ‘Tangerine’ came up on my ipod shuffle yesterday—the spirit of Desmond appeared on his birthday.
    Thanks & Happy Thanksgiving to ya!

  3. Frank Roellinger says

    We need frequent reminders of the greatest truths in life. Seeing this same column or a similar variation once a year would be just fine.

  4. Svetlana Ilicheva says

    November 25 will always be for me Paul’s Day
    which happily coincides with my own birthday
    (a tiny bit of Dry Martini to Paul!).
    Thanks for regular PD remembrance!
    Still it seems to me this episode would be more appropriate to May 30. For Paul’s birthday the soul wants something more joyous and humorous, maybe with some Desmondisms…What luck he had ever been born!
    Does anyone know if there is a longer single stretch of Paul’s solo than that (6.40 min) in “Take the A Train” on Sweet Paul, vol 1 recording?

  5. Kathy O'Connor says

    I just happened on this site and found it very touching. What a great gift Paul Desmond’s musical talent was. Today I was listening to Desmond Blue and it occurred to me that every time I listen to one of his CDs I mourn that he died so young. Still, the beauty of his tone and phrasing lives on and is uplifting!