Other Places: Desmond And The Canadians

No sooner had I added Thomas Cunniffe’s website Jazz History Online to the Rifftides blogroll (bottom of the right column) than Tom posted an essay about the last period of Paul Desmond’s musical life. That was the era, all too brief, of Desmond’s Canadian quartet. The piece did not come as a complete surprise to me. As he was in the final stage of preparing it, Tom asked me to help him get permission to use a fine Ron Hudson photo of the quartet. The picture appears in my biography of Desmond. On the left here, you see a reduced section of it.

The essay is a fine summary of the Canadian quartet’s history and its concert, club and recording activity. Mr. Cunniffe discusses the music and the players with insight and humor, and Paul’s final days with sensitivity. The layout and graphics are tasteful. He includes helpful links to sources and references. What’s not to like? I would not go so far as to suggest that you read it instead of my book, but I heartily recommend it. For “Paul Desmond and the Canadians,” click here and the digital magic carpet will take you to Jazz History Online.

After you have read Cunniffe on Desmond, come back and listen to Desmond with the Canadians at Bourbon Street in Toronto. Whoever uploaded the track to YouTube identifies himself as “paganmaestro.” Paul would have liked that, I think.


Ted O’Reilly says:
September 1, 2012 1:17 pm

Excellent item, and website. Interestingly, the ‘original’ Canadian quartet of Ed Bickert, Don Thompson and Terry Clarke were all in the same room two weeks ago, and Rob McConnell was there in spirit. Ed was a special guest (in the audience) at a concert by a reunited Boss Brass at the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival in small-town Picton, Ontario, about 2 hours east of Toronto. I took pictures at the concert.

The fest’s creative director Brian Barlow was the band’s long-time percussionist, and with star soloist Guido Basso (a County resident) got the alumni band together for a single concert to remember Rob, and the great fun the guys had playing his music. Rick Wilkins rehearsed and conducted, appropriately, as he was a long-serving reedman in the band, and had carte blanche from McConnell to write anything he wanted for the band.

Don Thompson played piano (he first played with the Boss Brass as its percussionist, then as the bassist, finally at the piano), Terry Clarke was on drums, as he was for most of the band’s life, and in Ed Bickert’s guitar chair, his “musical son” Reg Schwager. Steve Wallace was on bass, creating a powerful engine room for a great orchestra. ‘Twas a memorable night of music!

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  1. Frank Roellinger says

    Great article. Thanks for the link, Doug. “Audrey” is mentioned, the tune that was recorded in 1954 and appeared on the LP “Brubeck Time”. It is true that it was only rarely revisited by Desmond in subsequent years, but another tune similar to “Audrey” was recorded at about the same time as the 1954 version, entitled “Makin’ Time”. The master for this tune must have been lost, because it was not included as a “bonus track” when “Brubeck Time” was reissued on CD. “Makin’ Time” came out on an obscure Columbia LP sampler entitled “I Like Jazz” and can be heard on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DL24HmjoCc

    • Doug Ramsey says

      At the end of “Balcony Rock” on the Brubeck Jazz Goes To College album, you can hear the genesis of the blues melody that concludes “Audrey” and “Makin’ Time.” “Balcony Rock,” is from a concert at the University of Michigan in May of 1954. The quartet recorded “Audrey” and “Makin’ Time” in the Columbia studio in October of ’54. Brubeck and Desmond frequently incorporated the “Balcony Rock” strain in concert during the life of the quartet and during their 25th anniversary reunion tour in 1976. They also played it in their 1975 album of duets, a high point of their discography.

      • Dick McGarvin says

        As I’m sure Doug is well aware, the “Balcony Rock” blues melody shows up with yet another title on a Desmond recording. This time it’s called “North by Northeast” and is on Summertime*, the Creed Taylor produced album on A&M, with Don Sebesky arrangements and some great playing by Herbie Hancock. It was recorded in late 1968.

        “Balcony Rock” from Jazz Goes to College is a timeless gem and, possibly, my favorite Brubeck recording.

        • Terence Smith says

          Dick, I so much agree about the special quality of “Balcony Rock” from the “Jazz Goes to College” album.

          Desmond has the student audience involved as if his solo is a preacher telling the truth we all needed to hear. And as the audience murmurs and shouts in agreement, I always do too. Even though I “know ” the solo from hearing it a thousand times beginning in high school, Paul Desmond’s choruses amaze and surprise me as an unfolding story, every time.

          It’s a great example of the chemistry and telepathy between Brubeck and Desmond. And Dave creates such vistas of feeling, some so majestic they seem like a new mood of the blues form. Which is ever renewing.

          Perfect for Labor Day. Or any Day.

  2. says

    Thanks so much for the tip, Doug. Since I have both, the “Pure Desmond” & the “Live” album on vinyl, I have ordered the “Summertime” vinyl-album as well. It’s online available multiple times.

  3. Ken Dryden says

    Thanks for sharing the link to Thomas Cunliffe’s piece on Paul Desmond. It would be a pity if more of Paul Desmond’s Canadian recordings aren’t issued in the near future.