Doug Ramsey, who is writing an eagerly awaited biography of Paul Desmond, the alto saxophonist who was (and is) my favorite jazz musician, saw my posting
about Walker Percy and sent me this paragraph from his 1977 obituary of Desmond:
And there was always talk about books. He rarely left on a trip of more than 30 minutes without at least one paperback. He was a rapid and consuming reader. Long ago, in ’55, he had alerted me to Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and I was gratified in the sixties to turn him on to Walker Percy. Paul said he found a lot of himself in The Moviegoer, that beautiful Percy book about loneliness and grace.
That’s a wonderful thing to find out about Desmond, a man whose wry, soft-spoken playing was by all accounts a mirror of his personality. I wish I’d met him, though I’ve listened to his recordings and read his witty liner notes often enough to feel that we might almost have have known one another. He famously remarked that “I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a dry martini,” and on another occasion described himself as “the John P. Marquand of the alto,” a brilliantly apposite observation that no other musician in the history of jazz (except perhaps the well-read Bing Crosby, another Marquand fan) would have thought to make. As a longtime admirer of Marquand’s elegiac novel Point of No Return, I know just what he meant.
If you’ve never heard Desmond’s playing, either on his own or with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, you couldn’t do much better than to start with The Paul Desmond Quartet Live, a perfectly lovely solo album from 1975. Should that ring the bell, your next stop should be The Complete RCA Victor Recordings, a splendid five-CD box set that also features the great guitarist Jim Hall. Once you’ve gotten that far, I won’t need to tell you what to do next–you’ll be hooked.
As for The Moviegoer, I hope you’re already on the case….