Every May 30 of the nearly seven-year history of this web log I have posted an observance of the passing of Paul Desmond. As the staff and I were puzzling over a new approach on this 35th anniversary of his death, Rifftides reader Svetlana Ilicheva wrote from Moscow with her translation of part of a Russian jazz musician and columnist’s appreciation of Desmond.
Paul Desmond is well-remembered and highly valued here in Russia by genuine jazz lovers. On the Russian portal Джаз.ру (Jazz.ru), trumpeter Alexander Fischer (pictured) in an essay titled “Melodies That Narrate” writes, among other things, about Desmond’s solo on “Tangerine” with the Dave Brubeck Quartet in Copenhagen in 1957.
“…Just Listen how Paul Desmond is doing that on his alto saxophone. You can hardly find in his solo empty notes or passages, gratuitous display of technique or special effects. It seems to me that his musical statement reflects human thought in all its diversity, versatility, flexibility, logic and the presence of nooks, ‘dark’ and ‘light’ places…”
If you know Russian, you can read Mr. Fischer’s complete column here. If you happen to have Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond at hand, you can read along with the “Tangerine” solo on pages 194-199. Pianist Bill Mays and his friend Arne DeKeijzer have transcribed all 13 choruses. In his commentary, Bill writes, “Sequential melodic development is something all improvisers employ in solos—Paul uses it beautifully and liberally throughout.”
At the risk of being obvious, allow me to encourage special attention at 4:30 to an expression of the blues heart that beats just beneath the surface of so much of Desmond’s playing.
Thinking of Desmond at this time of year, I remember what Dave Brubeck told me long ago as his family was gathering at his house for the annual Memorial Day observance of which Paul had so often been a part:
“Boy,” he said, “I sure miss Paul Desmond.”