The French jazz critic Alain Gerber is also a novelist, or vice versa. He published a book in 2007 that may be a biography, a novel, or both. Its title in French is Paul Desmond et le côté féminin du monde, or Paul Desmond and the Feminine Side of the World. That is the extent of my ability to translate from French to English, and I owe it to Google. I’m the guy who gets by in France for two weeks at a time with Excusez-moi de vous deranger. Here is the Googleized English version of the French publisher’s description of the book:
He loved burning cigarettes at both ends. He loved scotch dewars with a youthful zeal, and then go home to around the early morning, waking in the middle of the afternoon and groping her horn-rimmed spectacles, and contemplate his hangover in the mirror of the bathroom, with a sense of accomplishment. He liked to kill time with extreme gentleness. Dying without impatience. discuss the eye. Talking about literature, poetry, ballet, film, comedy. But, above all, he loved women. […] They were his smoke without fire. telling and music prodigy, this dissipation of shimmer, this splendid infertility.
As Desmond’s English language biographer and drinking companion, I now have one more reason to regret his no longer being among us. I would give about anythinglet’s say a bottle of Dewarsto read that passage to him, looking up and pausing after “groping her horn-rimmed spectacles.” Paul infrequently laughed out loud. He was more given to knowing chuckles, but that line might have done the trick. The French website offers this passage from the book:
“All it was – a saxophonist, star or unloved, Don Juan, a man without a wife, a writer without literature, alcoholic, desperate, lonely, good guest, a nostalgic, casual, maker of epigrams and witticisms, amateur puns, storyteller, and many other things – all he was, he never was really “
To see it in Alain Gerber’s native tongue, go here.
For the English translation of the web page, go here. I can find no evidence that Paul Desmond et le côté féminin du monde exists in anything but French.
Skill in languages is unnecessary for the enjoyment of Desmond, Jim Hall, Gene Wright and Connie Kay playing Matt Dennis’s timeless ballad “Angel Eyes.” This is from one of Paul’s RCA quartet albums of the 1960s. Seldom mentioned in assessments of Desmond’s and Hall’s playing is their ability to find blues implications in non-blues pieces.
Ed Leimbacher says
The French must have a word for it, but who en enfer knows what it
might be? Monk and Miles, Chet Baker and native son Barney Wilen and
numerous other Jazzpersons have all been subjected to having their
lives fictionalized (some might say trivialized), both in print and in
French comics called bandes dessinees. If anyone is now curious, I examined this odd phenomenon some months ago, at:
http://mrebks.blogspot.com/2009/09/barneys-blues.html#links (Scroll up when you get there)
Google-eyed translating makes more ridiculous a phenomenon plenty bizarre already.
Hal Strack says
Much of what is said is Paul, all right. He certainly had an affinity for ladies. And he did fancy Dewars, although he would drink other good scotch. He unfortunately smoked, but you could not have changed or lessened that. It now seems to be my interesting recollection, however, that when he was rather sick, and after chemotherapy, I do not recall him smoking when I saw him then. But through the years smoking was both a right and a rite with Paul. Describing Paul “en francais” is interesting, but I sense that this author tries a little too hard, gropes for and overstates his points, tending to make Paul seem a little less human, which of course was not the case. Maybe a little strange and different in some respects, and certainly an uncommon virtuoso and intellect, but at the same time none-the-less possessed of very human qualities. You have Paul much, much better framed in your magnificent book.
(Hal Strack was close to Desmond beginning in their teen years as fellow musicians in San Francisco. His recollections were an invaluable source when I was researching the book.DR)