A Desmond Oberlin Masterpiece, Complete

Desmond At OberlinPaul Desmond died at the age of 52 on this date in 1977. It was Memorial Day. It had been his custom to join Dave Brubeck and his family to observe the holiday at their Connecticut home, which Paul had christened The Wilton Hilton. This time, his lung cancer made him too weak to consider the trip. From my Desmond biography, here is a summary of events leading up to his final day, beginning with an account of one of our frequent telephone conversations.

A few days before Memorial Day, I got a call in San Antonio. “Hi, it’s me, Desmond,” he began, cheery as ever. After a few minutes we faded into an unusual conversational impasse, a series of commonplace exchanges that reflected what he knew and I suspected. He suggested that we both get mildly bombed on Friday evening, May 27, and he would call me from Elaine’s.

Jenna (Whidden) had planned a trip to London for late May. Desmond encouraged her to take it. (Steve) Forster was looking after him, helping him get through the days. There was little that doctors could do. “I was just falling to bits,” Jenna said. “I needed to go away. The day before I left, I went to say goodbye and, frail as he was, he insisted that Steve take him downstairs to the camera shop to buy me one of those Polaroid instant things that had just come out. I got to London and, of course, rang him immediately, and he sounded reasonably good. We had a nice chat. I said I would talk to him the next day. And he said, ‘No, no, don’t call tomorrow. Ring me Tuesday.’ I’ve got friends coming tomorrow, and I want you to relax and enjoy yourself.’”

“When I left on Friday,” Forster said, “I kind of knew that would be the last time I would see him. I felt it, but I wasn’t sure and, in a way, I didn’t want to admit it. But…he was tired. He knew.”

On May 30, Memorial Day, Desmond’s cleaning woman was unable to wake him.

Brubeck Oberlin 10 InchOn this 36th anniversary of Paul’s passing, those with internet access can listen to the complete version of a monumental Desmond solo. For decades, only listeners who owned the 1953 10-inch vinyl Fantasy LP of the Brubeck Quartet’s Jazz At Oberlin have been able to hear Desmond soaring unedited through chorus after breathtaking chorus of “The Way You Look Tonight.” It is a matter of conjecture why Fantasy cut a minute of the solo when they expanded the album to a 12-inch LP. All subsequent CD reissues perpetuated the cut. In any case, over the years most people have missed the portion of the solo that runs from 1:12 to 2:11 in the video below. Recently, a YouTube contributor known as Kocn53 liberated the complete solo from his copy of the 10-inch LP. He illustrated it with the cover of the 12-inch album. On the left we’re showing you the cover of the original LP, which had only four tracks. Fantasy added “How High the Moon” to the expanded release. How about a public service award for Kocn35, whoever he or she may be.

Paul Desmond, 1924-1977

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  1. des stanley says

    hi doug,a great article on a ground breaking album. i am lucky enough to have a u.k. decca pressing of the original and paul desmond’s solo’s are still simply exquisite.1977 was a particularly sad year for jazz as garner passed away in feb.

  2. Larry Dunlap says

    Great. One of my two favorite sax players of all time. Thanks. I had the LP, but have not heard it for many years.

  3. Kenny Harris says

    Oh my, Doug. You did it to me again. Although I was only in Paul’s company for about a week, I still feel very close to him. What a loss… but the recordings are all so wonderful.

  4. Buddy Dearent says

    Jazz At Oberlin was one of my early 10″ LP purchases and certainly how great it is to hear this highlight again. I remember buying the 78rpm of The Trolley Song which had the rehearsal on one side and the
    complete tune on the other side and had a great solo by Desmond which got lost in the take selection when LP then CD came out. Another one lost to the ages. What logic, what continuity, what melodic sense. Truly amazing and greatly missed. R. I. P. Paul.

    • Frank Roellinger says

      Miss no more, Buddy, it’s right here, both sides. You can even watch the old 78 spinning.


      The rehearsal did make it to the 12″ LP “Jazz At The Blackhawk”, as did a complete performance, but different from the one on this 78. Perhaps Dave thought the one on the LP (recorded at a concert) was better?

  5. Peter Bergmann says

    Paul’s music is rare: it is good company in life.
    One can’t go wrong having a Dry Martini today.

  6. Terence Smith says

    How nice to hear the Oberlin version in its entirety this morning, the “way it looked to them that night” in 1953.I always loved certain Dave Brubeck Octet arrangements and noticed that they seemed to bring out the best in the “DBQ” when they did them for quartet. “The Way You Look Tonight” is for me at the top tier of those classic arrangements.

    For years I used to listen to my old “Ace of Hearts” English 12-inch LP release of “Jazz et Oberlin”, with the reproduced Fantasy cover. I think it had the full great Desmond solo, because I think I remember the apparent fleeting reference to a Mexican tune ( “Cielito Linda”?). I’m going to check and see.

    I do remember Alan Morgan’s notes on that LP, in which he relates that Brubeck and Desmond went onstage that night in the midst of a heated argument, and that they remember playing in a competitive spirit that night. If so, it worked out well indeed. Dave and Paul were always such a “two-part contention”, in so many interesting ways.

    I am so glad I can hear so many recordings of these irreplaceable music makers.

  7. dick vartanian says

    Absolutely wonderful playing from everyone. The Desmond solo is in a class by itself.

  8. Frank Roellinger says

    Thanks, Doug, a very interesting (and mysterious) find. The 12″ LP took less than 18 minutes on the side that included this tune, so this section was not deleted for time considerations. Perhaps whoever owns the publishing rights to this music will restore this track and use it as a selling point in the next reissue.

    Can anyone identify the tune which Paul quotes in the first 4 bars of his solo?

    • David says

      Frank, I assume that you’re referring to the bit at 0:42 which is from “Lover, Come Back to Me.” You may also have noticed the bit from “Mexican Hat Dance” at 1:45, the bits from “Firebird” and “Petroushka” mentioned by Jim that begin at 2:21, a hint of “Mountain Greenery” at 4:00 and probably several others that I’m missing. The amazing thing, of course, is how Desmond weaves all of this stuff together into a fluent, lyrical solo.

      • Frank Roellinger says

        David, It does sound a lot like “Lover Come Back To Me”. However, another tune exists that is similar to LCBTM but note-for-note is exactly what Paul plays here. Perhaps the other tune ripped off LCBTM, but it is different and I’m nearly certain that Paul is quoting the other tune. If no one gets it correctly in a few days I will reveal my pick.

        Among the several others is “I Love You” at 02:55 which I like to think was directed toward the audience, which was so responsive. BTW as you may know, Jim Hall was in that audience.

        • David says

          Frank, This does differ a little from LCBTM in that it starts on the third note of the scale rather than the first. Is the rhythm the same as the one you’re thinking of? It’s easy to imagine it as a waltz. That part at 2:55 almost sounds like he suddenly picked up a clarinet.

        • Frank Roellinger says

          I believe that Paul is quoting the tune called “Signal” by Jimmy Raney. Try 0:23 here:

          • Doug Ramsey says

            That’s it. Good catch, Frank; good ears. In those days, 1953 in this case, Desmond was a great fan of the Getz quintet with Raney on guitar; Hall Overton, piano; Red Mitchell, bass; and Frank Isola, drums.

          • David says

            Right, I had completely forgotten that beautiful Raney tune which, conincidentally, I have on a double LP of live early ‘50s recordings by the Getz & Brubeck groups called “Jazz Summit.” It seems to have been a staple of Getz’ repertoire during that period. The version I have includes Haig, Kotick, and Kahn, along with Raney.

  9. Jim Williams says

    I posted on the Brubeck list that–if I didn’t know better–Desmond might have been prescient enough to leave (or create) a hole where the chorus could be cut out. It’s really atypical for the rest of the solo. I’ve sliced and diced a fair amount of audio, dating back to the Gem blade days, and I don’t think I have ever seen a more perfect hole in an improvised solo to splice–if I remember correctly the note in question is F (the tune switches between B flat and D flat), and there’s an ending F in the first chorus that can segue perfectly into the F that begins the chorus after the one they edited out.

    And…as long as we are celebrating Stravinsky these days, the deconstruction of Stravinsky later in Paul’s solo still amazes me. Rhythmic displacement at its finest!

    As soon as time permits, I will transcribe the “rediscovered” chorus and patch it into my transcription that I did in 1979, lost in a flood in 2008, and rediscovered a Xerox of under a pile of “stuff” recently. I have this solo and maybe 15-20 others if I can clean the crud off them.

    As Brubeck said of Desmond on this date…”perfection on fire…”

  10. Michael Deane says

    Thanks for taking the time to send this out…..love my MOSAIC collection of Desmond to this day – still play it often……(w/Jim Hall)……

  11. Math Hermann says

    Shortly before Dave died, I read where a 19 disc package of ureleased recordings would be issued. I wonder if this project is still going to happen.
    Through the years I’ve also heard rumors of an autobiography. Any ideas?

    • Doug Ramsey says

      Iola Brubeck is completing the book that she and Dave worked on together for years. No publication date has been announced.

      • mel says

        That’s wonderful news, Doug. I have “It’s About Time – The Dave Brubeck Story” by Fred M. Hall (1996) and, of course, your indispensable biography of Paul , “Take Five”.

        Iola and Dave’s book will be eagerly awaited. As soon as you get news of its publication, please let us know.

  12. says

    This kind of “video” surely belongs to the small portion of YouTube I really love.

    Kudos to Kocn53, AND: Long live Paul Desmond!

  13. says

    And may I remind your blog readers of the Hal-Leonard publication this summer of my “THE HARMONY of DAVE BRUBECK” text. While working on it Dave was most generous with his time and insights for each of his 15 tunes I analyzed for this volume. It is similar in format to my 2-volume work, “THE HARMONY of BILL EVANS”, with graphs, form analyses and a text that is meant to encourage the study of his music. I anticipate a 2nd volume covering his classical works. The man was a Master walking the planet, composing incredible music. Thank you Dave. I miss you.

  14. Donna Shore says

    This was my first and favorite Brubeck album. The cover photo knocked me out at the time. The color and each individual presented so you KNEW who these guys were. The photographer knew how to sell an album and the recording itself was exemplary.

  15. Ken Dryden says

    Thanks for sharing this dub on the original release.

    Russell Gloyd, Dave Brubeck’s long time manager, told me that Sony was discussing a boxed set of the quartet’s live recordings (similar to the studio boxed set) and mentioned there was a lot of unissued material from the Concertgebouw concert. So far, no release date has been scheduled.

    • math hermann says

      ken I often wonder where the tape from the 10-inch Jazz Interwoven tape is?

  16. Dan Kelly says

    Wow! What a treat. I could pick his crystal-clear-as-a-bell tone out of a hundred alto men. His command of fake notes was second to none. But I’m preaching to the choir.

  17. Diana Wilko says

    Thank you so much for this extra minute we didn’t know was there!

    When I bought the CD version of Live at the Berlin Philharmonic (with Gerry Mulligan, 1970) I did a double take when I listened to Things Ain’t What They Used To Be. There were four extra minutes of Dave’s solo (which was a great one) compared to the LP version. It’s like those dreams when you find an extra room in your house you never knew was there. Pure joy!

    • James Cimarusti says

      Columbia/Sony is usually pretty good about restoring content and song order in their reissues of live material. On the CD issue of “Live at Carnegie Hall”, Columbia/Sony restored the track order (which was originally switched/juggled on side 4 to balance the record sides) and added back ALL of Dave Brubeck’s comments from the show (which originally had been edited so all the music could be included on the records). I only wish they’d added “Makin’ Time” to the “Brubeck TIme” CD issue (See the “Audrey” discussion in an earlier Rifftides post).

  18. Andrew Smith says

    When I was leaving my teens a first coffee bar opened in my home town – what decadence! The young proprietors had an enlightened outlook on music and provided an almost exclusively jazz environment for their lucky customers. Erroll Garner’s “Concert by the Sea”, Ella with “The Rodgers and Hart Songbook”, Thelonius Monk’s “Town Hall Concert” and a host of others, with “Jazz at Oberlin” perhaps best remembered of all. Many of them I subsequently bought. When I listened to the Desmond solo in question I was pretty sure that there were unfamiliar elements, which negated the idea that the English issue had the full version. I have confirmed this by playing my English LP (Vogue LAE 12048). I hope that this answers Brew’s question.

    • says

      Thanks, Andrew, it did answer my question… There are some sites on the net where the LP is listed with timed tracks; they all say 7:49 for the 12″-LP’s.

      BTW: I have purchased the original 10″-release for a bargain (’cause it was quite kaputt). Anyway, there is a chance that it will sound better than expected.

      Life would be a bore without taking risks now and then, right? And, as PD would have said: “Who cares for scratches?” If it’s too tough to listen to, I can still frame the cover, and have a nice artwork in the living room 😉

  19. James Cimarusti says

    Hopefully Concord Jazz will do a PROPER reissue of “Jazz at Oberlin” with the tracks in their original performed order with the UNeditied version in its place with the edited version as a bonus track. While they’re at it, maybe Concord Jazz can reissue Paul Desmond’s 10 inch completely by restoring the 3 tracks that were dropped when the tracks were converted to half of the Paul Desmond/Gerry Mulligan 12 inch. Fantasy could have done it with the CD version now available since there is plenty of room left for the three missing trracks.

  20. James Cimarusti says

    Was the unedited version of “The Way You Look Tonight” issued on the 2 record set on Atlantic “The Art of Dave Brubeck” which contained the Oberlin and Jazz at the College of the Pacific albums? (I’ve always wondered how/why Atlantic issued this set).

    • Doug Ramsey says

      I agree it’s odd that Atlantic compiled and released the Fantasy recordings. I don’t have that set and can’t answer about the version of “The Way You Look Tonight.” Perhaps a Rifftides reader who owns the album can tell us.

  21. Malcolm Norman says

    The ultimate frustration is that I, outside the U.S. (i.e. Germany), cannot access the video even when using a proxy giving me a U.K. IP-number! Help!!

    • Malcolm Norman says

      I’ll now reply to myself with a reprimand for having been so capitvated by the thought of an extra minute’s Desmond Oberlin solo that my impatience blinded me to cool computer considerations – which eventually enabled me to access the treasure! This may, though, be a useful opportunity to point out that the “Lonehill” reissue of “In Europe” contains thirtyfive seconds cut from Desmond’s “Tangerine” solo on the Columbia issues!

  22. says

    By the way: I now can proudly tell you all that the original 10″ release & the later 12″ LP are both in my possession.

    The seller of the 10″ told me that it would sound like an African, or Indian bootleg. Well, she was right… BUT, and this is a very BIG but: The track in question is sounding quite OK, with a few scratches only.

    Folks, I will post this very track at my blog very soon. Stay tuned!

    P.S. — Dave’s solo is gigantic too, just for the records.