Other Matters: The Carbaggio Story

Friend Dave Cohler sent me a few puns recently and reminded me of one I sent him long before it became a part of my Paul Desmond biography. Desmond and Jim Hall (pictured) concocted what I described in the book as the most elaborate pun I’ve ever encountered. He loved to recite it:

A boy of Italian descent named Carbaggio is born in Germany. With his swarthy looks and dark curly hair, he grows up feeling a bit of a misfit among the blond Teutons. He tries to compensate by being more German than the Germans, but he’s only boring, and is not accepted. When he’s a young man, he escapes to Paris. Shortly after he arrives there, he visits a gift shop and is caught stealing a brass miniature of the Eiffel Tower. The police arrest him and give him the choice of going to jail or immediately leaving the country. He chooses freedom and buys passage on the first ship outbound from Marseilles. It takes him to New York. Thinking he’d like a career as a broadcaster, he goes the RCA Building and walks into the office of General David Sarnoff. Sarnoff says there are no air positions open, but he offers the boy a job as a strikebreaker. Carbaggio takes it. When the strike is over, he finds himself on a union blacklist. He moves out to Long Island and gets a job at the sonar equipment company owned by a man named Harris. He studies English, and after several years has improved to the point where he gets a job as a disc jockey on a radio station, doing a program called Rock Time.

He has realized his dream. He’s a routine Teuton Eiffel-lootin’ Sarnoff goon from Harris Sonar, Rock-Time Carbaggio.

Culturally deprived Rifftides readers mystified by the payoff line should click here and let Jo Stafford bring them up to date.

Here’s another Desmond-Hall collaboration, with Gene Cherico, bass, and Connie Kay, drums. 1963.

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  1. brian turner says

    Doug, the first time I read this years ago, I thought it was about the most intelligent, mad, brilliant, crazy, creative bit I’d ever read. Only a jazz musician, and a genius, could have come up with it, or even envisioned such. Thank heavens for Desmond, and for those readers who missed it, what a treat. Thank you.

  2. Ken Dryden says

    I remember when I first heard you share that story at the 1990 JazzTimes Convention in New Orleans. Since I wasn’t familiar with the song, I couldn’t figure out the “Rocktime Carbaggio” at all. Thanks for providing the link.

  3. says

    You belong in a punatenchery. With that kind material someone’s liable to take pun-itive action against you. Other thoughts: a schizoid favorite tune “Alone Together”—(mine) just now :)——–when asked why he became a jazz musican-he replied–I HATE CROWDS!

  4. Terence Smith says

    Some in the psychiatric field might diagnose Paul Desmond’s delightful adeptness with puns as an alarming compulsive disorder. The Carbaggio story shows such a dedication to the elaborate setup that it could become a new psychiatric trash-can term for pathological dedication to the preparation and delivery of puns. And as a lifetime admirer of Desmond’s lyricism and aphorisms, I have never heard him stray so far from the malady.

    BTW, is there anybody more adept, and less gratuitous, at the musical quote, or even quote within-a quote, than Paul Desmond ( and maybe his buddy Brubeck come to think of it?), within the improvised solo? Is this a related malady with similar dividends for the insiders who are allowed to “get it”?

    And I guess he used to set up the musical quotes too, sometimes. I think it was Nat Hentoff who told the story that Desmond warned him to watch for a double quote-within-a-quote (on “Take the ‘A’ Train,” I think, at the Newport Jazz Festival about 1956. It’s on an old Columbia LP.

  5. Jon Foley says

    There’s a name (I think) for that category of wordplay that consists of a story made up of multiple puns, and which ends in an elaborate punchline, like the Desmond story’s. Do you know what it is? Some of them also incorporate spoonerisms – an example:

    An African tribal leader declares himself king and demands an elaborate throne be built for him. It gets built – made of gold and jewels – and is very heavy. Then the king demands it be brought up to his residence – a large grass shack built on long poles, and high off the ground. Reluctantly, four men struggle to bring it up the long flight of stairs to his house. They put it down, leave the house, and then the King ascends to the throne and sits on it. Immediately, it crashes through the floor, falls to the ground and the king is killed.

    Moral of the story: People who live in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      There is no surer way to smother humor than to analyze it.

      I will go only so far as to suggest that Desmond’s and Hall’s masterpiece seems to contain elements of all of the categories of puns: homographic, homophonic, homonymic, compound and recursive. It’s probably funnier if you don’t dwell on that fact.

  6. Terence Smith says

    If possible, I’d like to horn in a PS about the Desmond wit. His alto tone, the whimsy of his solos, and the tone of his quips are so not unrelated. They are all of a piece. I know musical quotes ( of other tunes within jazz solos) are a commonplace. Bird was maybe the founding father of musical subquotes. But Desmond was such a natural at this he makes you laugh, so tasteful. On the notes to Dave Brubeck and Jay & Kai at Newport (1956) (CL 932), George Avakian says that he and Paul Desmond had a running gag about “wolf expectancy” quotients and indexes, referring to the many ways Paul worked in the Peter motif fron Profofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”. Desmond told Avakian as he went onstage, ” If we play the A Train tonight, I’ve got a hidden double quote that will really test your wolf expectancy.” Parts of the solo recorded July 6, 1956 are direct quotes of “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf” and very subtle uses of “Peter’ Peter Pumpkin Eater” which you have to watch for to catch! The lengths to which Desmond will go to set up a gag, and the humorous value of the results, seems to me could be called “The Carbaggio Syndrome.” I have many favorite musical quotes within Desmond solos; in fact, I think I can hear Desmond/Brubeck telepathy conversations. Would any other Desmond fans share favorite Desmond musiquotes within solos? It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul!

  7. Terence Smith says

    Hey, James Cimarusti, YES, those are some choice quotes!
    Did you get the “Jazz Icons” DVD, Dave Brubeck Live in ’64 and ’66 ? When they play “Three to Get Ready”, Desmond works in a brief imitation of a drunk singing “Auld Lang Syne”; you can see Dave, Morello, and Wright laughing, and it IS funny. Later in the DVD they do “Koto Song”, and you can watch Dave’s reaction to Desmond’s very humorous use of Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me” ; a high point of a great solo, the way he does it.

    When they played “Gone With the Wind” at Newport 1959 (Viper’s Nest VN-160), Paul’s very Rollinsesque use of “St. Thomas” is a high point of the solo. On “I Remember You” (Jazz at the College of the Pacific), I like the ” I’m Just Breezin Along with the Breeze” reference. It seems like Paul plays it because he feels like his solo is going well. And of course, Brubeck signals to Paul that he wants him to come in with “I’ve Got Plenty of Nothin””

    This isn’t a quote exactly, but did you notice how Paul would SOUND just like Johnny Hodges sometimes, when he did his spot in the middle of Brubeck’s “The Duke”?

    • James Cimarusti says

      Thank you Terrence! Unfortunately, I’ve not seen the DVD nor heard the Viper’s Nest recording. There are a couple of other quotes I remember but can’t recall the recordings. One is “St. Thomas” again, and the other is “Shuffle off to Buffalo”. Maybe Doug knows those two.

  8. Jim Williams says

    There’s one I can’t place:

    On the coda of “Look for the Silver Lining,” Paul plays a quote from an old TV sports show theme or Movietone trailer theme. I don’t think it’s “Wide World of Sports.” Who can identify it?…If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll write it out.

    QUIZOLET: What Desmond solo contains a quote from “Lovely Hula Hands”?
    Or, If I can extend a Desmondism about Irish tunes–is it “Lovely Houlihans”?

    • Doug Ramsey says

      The “Silver Lining” tag is “Paramount on Parade.” Someone else will have to come up with the Quizolet answer.

  9. Terence Smith says

    When I was listening to the Jazz Icons DVD last night, I noticed, right after the “Auld Lang Syne” bit on “Three to Get Ready’, that Desmond ends the solo and sets up the Brubeck solo with a reference to a classic bebop intro/outro thing, often played by Bud Powell. Can you guys help me identify it? I cannot answer the Quizolet on “Lovely Hula Hands”, but this is possibly because I don’t know “Lovely Hula Hands”–by name, at any rate. The funny thing about Desmond’s quotes is that they are so natural in the solo that they go by before you can identify them. But you have the feeling that Paul has put them to better use than their original setting–or just as good, but funnier!

    • Doug Ramsey says

      The phrase Desmond plays is a vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding interlude that was probably first heard on record in 1946. The Dizzy Gillespie Sextet plays it just before the out-chorus of “52nd Street Theme.” You’ll find it on Gillespie’s complete RCA Victor recordings. Powell used it in the same way in his 1949 “5nd Street Theme” recording with Fats Navarro and Sonny Rollins on The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol. 1. Who knows how many jazz groups have played it since? Hundreds, at least.

      If you’d like to increase your cultural IQ by knowing “Lovely Hula Hands, go here.

  10. Terence Smith says

    I think it is obvious by now that there is a Vast Underground of Paul Desmond fanatics, and that the quizolet game of Desmondized quote-identifications can and will snowball into a synergistic bonding force within said Underground. This force can increase general awareness within the Underground.*

    On that note, you mentioned the “vaguely Middle-Eastern” quality above, a quality so prevalent in the early Bebop stuff. Often as a composed effect, but sometimes more organically, as on “Night in Tunisia” solos, etc. Wasn’t Paul Desmond an unacknowledged early master of using Middle Eastern scalar effects in a natural way ( before Yusef Lateef and Coltrane, for example), often within solos on American pop songs? “Le Souk” is the classic example, but Desmond uses Middle Eastern scalar things all over the place, and so effectively, especially in his early Fifties recordings. Would any readers share favorite examples of “Le Soukism” moments in Desmond solos?** And Doug Ramsey, did you ever ask Paul D about this aspect of his style? (I don’t have the Desmond bio yet, but it’s on my list).***

    • Doug Ramsey says

      * Good heavens! I can only imagine Desmond’s reaction to being pegged as a synergistic bonding force in a vast underground. Although, come to think of it, he did read a lot of H.P. Lovecraft.

      ** Let’s see what comes back.

      *** No, but there is a discussion of the track on page 167 of the book.

  11. Jim Williams says

    When my schedule permits (likely after Christmas) and if there is some interest, I will transcribe the Le Souk solo and illustrate the modes…that is, if nobody has beaten me to it.

    One of Dave Brubeck’s myriad skills is the ability to comp appropriately for any solo(ist). In Le Souk, as I recall, he never clashes with Desmond’s solo, no matter how modally he plays.

    I wouldn’t dream of insulting the Vast Underground’s (VU’s) collective wisdom by asking what tune Le Souk is. HINT: Listen to the bridge.

    There were many instances of mode-shifting (Musical-ologists call it mutation) in the DBQ’s versions of tunes, mostly from major to minor, but they often got into some of the further-out ones, as in Le Souk.

    Was Ed Norton an original member of the Vast Underground??

    Jim Williams, optimist (euphonium player with a pager)

    PS–I am still trying desperately to figure out why I know “Lovely Hula Hands.” Can’t remember any leader calling it on a gig…not too many hula mavens in Flushing, where I grew up, either. Total mystery.