Paul Desmond, Take 88

Paul Desmond was born on this date in 1924. As I was contemplating how to observe his 88th birthday without repeating material from the previous seven Rifftides observances of the occasion, a reader came to the rescue. Frank Roellinger sent a link and the following message.

There is an ever-so-slight chance that you may not have heard this track before. I first became aware of its existence in 1963 when I saw that it was on a 2-LP set called “Playboy Jazz All-Stars”, or something like that. If you are familiar with it, perhaps you will listen anyway to marvel once again at Paul’s limitless imagination as he plays a solo unlike any other of his. Perhaps not among his best, but certainly something to marvel at anyway. Dave does quite well, too, and the recording quality is very high.

The track is called “Pilgrim’s Progress.” It is from Stratford, Ontario, Canada, in 1956, with Desmond, Brubeck, Norman Bates and Joe Dodge. The solos, whatever the tune has been called over the years, are based on the blues progression Desmond and Dave Brubeck perfected in the 1950s, when it was known as “Balcony Rock” and “Audrey.”

The Rifftides staff thanks Mr. Roellinger for unearthing a rare peformance. The picture at the upper left shows Paul happy on the stone veranda of El Rancho Ramsey in Bronxville, New York, circa 1974. We miss him.

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  1. Terence Smith says

    I first heard “Pilgrim’s Progress” fairly recently as a positive side-effect of finally finding a CD of The DBQ’s Jazz impressions of the USA to replace my several worn Columbia LPs. Columbia left it to the “Gambit” label to finally make a CD of Dave’s brilliant USA impressions, and Gambit added two rare tracks including this Audrey/Balcony Rock variant. I wonder if Desmond retitled it wittily for the “playboy” venue.

    I don’t have to play it yet to remember my impression of the Desmond solo, which the Gambit CD says was recorded live in Ontario Aug 3, 1956. It sounds as if the ever-resourceful Paul Desmond has come up with a once-per-career technique of selecting certain notes amidst his spiralling luminous ideas, then swallowing them back into his horn like a magician disappearing a bunny to reinforce its vividness.

    BTW, I also recommend the OTHER bonus track from the Gambit CD: an October 24, 1957 rendition of “Two Sleepy People”, recorded in Los Angeles. . It’s wonderful. I don’t think they played that number often, and it makes me want to also listen to the Brubeck solo piano version every time I hear it. Dave and Paul seem to be thinking affectionately of both Hoagy Charmichael and Fats Waller, and the listeners, as they play.

    On the subject of Desmond/Brubeck material from long out of print compilation LPs,which then became treasured bonus tracks: ” The Lawless Mike” is another gem.

    Happy Birthday to Paul Desmond and happy holidays to DR and Rifftidesers.

    • Frank Roellinger says

      Hello Terence, Re. the title… as I recall on the 2-LP set, it was mentioned that it referred to a model named Janet Pilgrim. I don’t recall whether it was mentioned who so titled it, but that is the type of thing that Paul just might do.

        • Terence Smith says

          Frank and Doug, Thanks for reminding me of all the kaleidoscope of things Brubeck and Desmond did with “Audrey”, “Lord, What Will Tomorrow Bring”, and whatever else they found in or from it. I have to make a list sometime of all references to it in obscure recordings. On the I guess bootlegged “Live at the Basin Street”, it’s called ” A Minor Thing”, I believe…and different every time.

          You also inspired me to compare and contrast with the completely different “Bru’s Blues” ( May 1, 1957) from the DBQ Jazz Goes to Junior College. Eleven or 12 minutes of 12-bar blues form with NO blues cliches, as all hands solo and Dave introduces them. Desmond of course avoided any reliance on “effects”, so the moment when, carried along by the momentum of his ideas, he comes close to sax-effects is ecstatic in its effect.

          It also reminds me of Desmond’s pianoless quartet blues recording with Don Elliott (“Sacre Blues”). Desmond’s always meaningful, never gratuitous, blues discourse leads him to a moment when he makes a high-register squeal that absolutely stops the world, as if he has wrapped up the entire history of Norman-Granz jam sessions into one note.

  2. says

    Follow this link, and you will find a World War I song written by Paul Desmond’s father, Emil Breitenfeld. It was included in a Jerome Kern musical called “Toot Toot.” A recording of it on an Edison cylinder (available by Google search) was in my father’s collection when I was a small child. The mention of it in Doug’s book alerted me to the connection with Paul, and I sorely wish I had known of it while he was alive. I’d have called him up and sung it to him:

    Oh, it’s not the pack that you carry on your back,
    Or the Springfield on your shoulder,
    Or the five inch crust of khaki colored dust
    That makes you feel your limbs are growing older,
    And it’s not the hike on the hard turnpike that wipes away your smile,
    Or the socks of sister’s that raise the blooming blisters,
    It’s the last long mile.

  3. mel says

    Not only “Balcony Rock” and “Audrey,” but also “Back Bay Blues” from Brubeck Time 1954 – Columbia USA and Philips UK. This one always seems to get overlooked.

    Thanks to Frank Roellinger for the YouTube video.

  4. says

    My favorite period of Desmond is the early Columbia Brubeck albums when they were playing lots of standards. I wish someone would collect this quartet material—first Columbia through Newport 56, the last recordings by the California quartet.

  5. says

    Thanks for remembering ‘Uncle’ Paul’s birthday and for posting this ‘live’ performance. I admit to never having heard it before, but I knew the tune as ‘Audrey’ and later as ‘Lord’Lord What Will Tomorrow Bring’ from The Gates of Justice. It was originally an untitled blues head so, as you say, the various titles hardly matter because they were retrospectively applied. It has been a permanent part of Dave’s ‘book.’ All of us Brubecks thank you for what you’re doing, Doug.

    • says

      …and all of us (jazz) musicians thank your father Dave, and Paul Desmond for their highly inspiring musical, and last but not least *human* contributions to our culture.

      When I was 17, I didn’t know what a trolley was, and I had not the slightest idea what “modal playing” meant. But I tirelessly tried to play along Paul’s lines. Musicians: do it, if you can play a horn, and you will get better in everything.