(1) Desmond On “Take Five.” (2) A Financial Report

I had the middle part kind of vaguely in mind. I thought, “We could do this, but then we’d have to modulate again and we’re already playing in 5/4 and six flats, and that’s enough for one day’s work.” Fortunately, we tried it, and that’s where you get the main part of the song.—Paul Desmond

At the time, I thought it was kind of a throwaway. I was ready to trade in the entire rights of “Take Five” for a used Ronson electric razor.—Paul Desmond

A Gift That Keeps On Giving

Desmond changed his mind about swapping the “Take Five” royalties for a shaver. Following his death in 1977, his will directed gifts of personal items and bequests of cash to a number of relatives and friends. The royalties went elsewhere. As recounted in the Coda chapter of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond:

The balance of Desmond’s residuary estate, after payment of debts and taxes, went to The American Red Cross. “Residuary” is the fateful word in that provision of Desmond’s will. Every year since his death, through his royalties from “Take Five,” his other compositions, his recordings and his share of the Brubeck Quartet recordings, Desmond has kept on earning. Noel Silverman (the executor of his estate) sends the Red Cross the money in increments of $25,000 as it accumulates in the estate’s account. In 1991 the total reached more than a million dollars.

For years, the Red Cross accepted the money but recognized the flow of payments only in form letters. In 2002, Silverman had had enough of the relief agency’s bureaucratic insensitivity. He wrote a letter that included this paragraph:

It is easy to accuse the Red Cross of ingratitude. I suspect that that may be less than accurate. It may simply be that the organization is poorly run, badly mannered, or understandably not concerned with gifts which are not dependent on whether or not they are acknowledged. Come to think of it, organizational ungraciousness may not be such a bad description after all.

That resulted in a high-ranking Red Cross official going from Washington, DC, to New York to meet with Silverman. She pronounced herself “horrified.” The Desmond estate began to receive closer attention. From the book:

Finally, the Red Cross informed Silverman that at the annual dinner dance of the organization in New York, Desmond would be honored with a posthumous tribute. On April 8, 2003, Silverman accepted the honor in Paul’s memory. He announced at the banquet that Desmond’s total contribution to the Red Cross had reached four million dollars and was growing.

“He has left us a double legacy—not only the art itself but the ongoing proceeds of that creativity as well,” Silverman told the Red Cross executives, donors and staff members. “It is easy to forget, however, that the Paul Desmonds of our world need and deserve our support just as we need theirs. Not because they may end up as contributors to the Red Cross, but because they constitute the soul of our society. Our failure to support them—the authors, the artists, the musicians, the dramatists, even the ones that defy easy description—leaves us poorer. We are who we are because of them. Our government’s increasing insistence that the arts are irrelevant or, worse yet, subversive, is of course sometimes correct and sometimes incorrect, as it needs to be in a vibrant, pluralistic society. We cannot easily do without organizations like the Red Cross, and we fail to support them at our peril, but the same is equally if not more true of our artistic community. Honoring the Paul Desmonds of the world is not a luxury. It is a necessity, and the fact that the Red Cross is the financial beneficiary of his munificence is simply icing on the cake.”

I spoke with Noel Silverman this morning. He told me that Desmond’s contributions to the Red Cross, largely by way of “Take Five’s” royalties, are now “well north of six million dollars.”

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  1. Denis Ouellet says

    Thank you Doug for this information on Paul.
    To me it’s always been obvious that Paul is a source of goodness.
    A heart of gold.

  2. says

    Thanks to my late dad, I’m one of the countless people in the world for whom Paul Desmond’s music is one of life’s blessings. Last night I listened to Skylark and this morning I happened upon your post. “Music for a While” indeed. So thank you Doug! This is really, really good to know. I’ll be sharing it.

  3. André Growald says

    Dear Doug, one of my concerns is that people are always so worried with staying alive and struggling with reality that artists like Paul Desmond are beginning to become almost forgotten from the great public. When I mention his name to any youngster the answer is always, “who” ?

    Signs of the times. Paul Desmond is for a few !

    Thank you for dedicating an important part of your life to this enormous effort of not letting Paul Desmond vanish in the smoke of his cigarettes !

    André Growald
    São Paulo, Brazil

  4. Rick Chinn says

    Thanks for this gem of a story. It’s a prime example of a gift that keeps on giving, and perhaps a reminder to recipients of such gifts to take public note of them. “Organizational ungratefulness” pretty much tells the story. Follow-thru is important, in life and business as it is in golf.

  5. says

    If only buskers payed royalties! It is the most heard tune played by buskers (street musicians) in the streets of London. The catch is that they almost invariably play it in 4/4 time.