Home computers and cell phones became realities after Paul Desmond died in 1977. Given his fascination with electronic devices, I am certain that if he were alive, he would be addicted to all things digital. Paul would love the idea of a program shooting through the ether into a computer and onto a compact disc.
Producer Paul Conley alerts Rifftides readers that his National Public Radio Jazz Profiles program on Desmond is now available as a free MP3 download at the NPR Music site. Nancy Wilson is the host. Her guests include Dave Brubeck, Eugene Wright, Jim Hall, John Snyder, Gene Lees, yours truly and, on tape, Desmond himself.
Desmond on Brubeck’s polytonality in their early days:
He would be in fifteen different keys on an out-of-tune piano and there were occasions when I was totally desperate about the situation.
Some people moved into the apartment across the hallway from him who were playing sort of garbage du jour, loud, all the time. So one time Paul just lost it and he put on a Bartok record, very loud, went across the hall, banged on the door, somebody opened the door and he said, “You hear that? It’s called music. How do you like it?”
The program was created before research for Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond unearthed new information about Desmond. It perpetuates the story Desmond concocted that he chose his last name from a telephone book. From Take Five, here’s fellow saxophonist Hal Strack’s recollection of the inspiration for the change from Breitenfeld to Desmond. It came at Sweets Ballroom in Oakland, California.
We were listening to Gene Krupa’s band, sometime in 1942. Howard Dulany had just left as the singer. The guy who replaced him had some kind of a convoluted Italian name and they decided that just wasn’t going to work for a vocalist. I mean, it was more difficult than Sinatra. So, he changed his name to Johnny Desmond.* We were standing there listening to the band and discussing the fact that this had happened, and Paul said, “Jeesh, you know that’s such a great name. It’s so smooth and yet it’s uncommon. If I decide I need another name, it’s going to be Desmond.”
Besides, he told someone later, Breitenfeld was too long to fit on a 78-rpm record label. In 1946, he went to the courthouse and made the change legal.
The program has plenty of music, including a fascinating section that illustrates Desmond’s ability to play counterpoint not only with Brubeck but also with himself. To download or listen to the hour-long Desmond Jazz Profiles program, follow this link.
*Johnny Desmond (1920-1985), the son of Italian immigrants, was born Giovanni Alfredo de Simone in Detroit in 1919. As a boy soprano, he won a radio talent contest. The name change quickly followed.
Jon Foley says
Thanks again for a great link, Doug (that’s two [at least!] outstanding ones this week). What an excellent program – at times it nearly brought a tear to my eye. Even with the belated (because he’s not around to hear/read it) appreciation of Desmond in the world of jazz criticism, he’s still underrated (although, come to think of it, he probably wouldn’t care, would he). I’m so glad I got to hear him in person twice, anyway, and I envy your having had the chance to know him. Back to my CD player!
G G says
Thanks for the link to the NPR Desmond program. I loved it. Hadn’t been to the NPR site in over a year, it’s much better and more useful these days.
I’m reading your book on Desmond and enjoying it, so the link was timely for me.