Since Rifftides began, every year on May 30 I have posted something about Paul Desmond. He died thirty-eight years ago today. For reasons that I cannot clearly identify, this year I struggled with the idea. Until the last moment I put off the remembrance and finally concluded that the best option was to have Paul speak for himself with his playing.
At the 1954 recording session for the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s album Brubeck Time, LIFE magazine photographer Gjon Mili shot the film you will see. Mili had egged Brubeck into an pugnacious frame of mind by saying that he did not consider that what the quartet played was jazz. That got the result he was hoping for, a surge through the harmonies of “Oh, Lady Be Good” that ended up titled “Stompin’ For Mili.” It’s the piece you hear and see last in the film clip. Brubeck later recalled that producer George Avakian then asked for a quiet minor blues. The preamble here is from my 2005 book The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond.
“I would like,” said Gjon, closing his eyes and raising his hand expressively, “I would like to see Audrey Hepburn come walking through the woods—“
Gee,” said Paul wistfully, “So would I.”
“One,” I said, noticing the glazed expression about Paul’s eyes, “two, three, four. And we played it.”
Mili may not have known of Desmond’s infatuation with Audrey Hepburn, but he could have said nothing more likely to inspire the playing that followed. Paul never met Audrey Hepburn, though he came close many times that summer of 1954. In the Jean Giraudeaux play Ondine, she was an underwater nymph who fell in love with a knight. She won a Tony award for her work in the title role. Ondine played at the 46th Street Theatre, not far from Basin Street.
“Paul would look at his watch the whole time we were playing at Basin Street,” Brubeck told me. “He knew when she would walk out the stage door and get in her limousine, and he wanted to be standing there. So, when I’d see him watching the time, I knew I’d better take a quick intermission or I was going to have problems with Paul. He’d put his horn down, and out the door he’d go, and he’d run down just to stand and watch her leave.”
“Paul told me that,” I said to Brubeck, “and I asked him, ‘What did you say to her?’ And he looked surprised and said, ‘Nothing. Are you kidding?’
Here is “Audrey,” note for note as it appeared on the album
This addendum to the “Audrey” story is also from the Desmond biography.
Brubeck Time became a big seller and “Audrey” one of Desmond’s most beloved works. The recording associated his name with Hepburn’s, but he died twenty-three years later never having imagined that she knew who he was or that she had heard the piece. After Hepburn died in 1993, the United Nations honored her for her international work with children. Her husband, Andrea Dotti, asked Brubeck and his Quartet to play “Audrey” at the memorial service at UN headquarters in New York.
“I told him,” Brubeck said, “that I had no idea he’d be aware of ‘Audrey.’ He said, ‘My wife listened to it every night before she went to bed, and if she was walking through the garden, she’d listen to it on earphones.’”
“Paul never knew,” Iola Brubeck said. “And he was so in love with Audrey.”
A year or so earlier, Hepburn herself acknowledged what “Audrey” meant to her. The publicist and author Peter Levinson sent the actress a copy of Brubeck Time when the album was first reissued as a compact disc. She responded with a hand-written note.
19 March ’92
Thank you for such a lovely gift—I am thrilled to have the Brubeck C.D. with ‘My Song,’ the ultimate compliment. You letter is so lovely, and I am most grateful for all your kindness.
At the United Nations ceremony, Brubeck’s new alto saxophonist, Bobby Militello, played Desmond’s solo note for note, inflection for inflection. He had memorized it when he was a boy.
Tom King says
Lovely! That has decided what I will listen to once John Lewis and friends playing the incidental music from Odds Against Tomorrow finishes.
David Sherr says
There was an alternate take of Audrey called Makin’ Time” that I preferred to the released take. I have it on a Columbia “sampler” album that was one of the first records I ever bought. I remember a Sunday morning TV show on CBS, perhaps called Camera 2, that featured the quartet. The networks don’t seem to do that any more.
Thank you for the reminder, David! “Makin” Time” was the very first piece (thanks to Frank Roellinger) where I heard the inimitable Paul Desmond sound and immediately fell in love with it. I am sure my life would be less colorful without Paul Desmond’s music.
David Sherr says
About 50 years ago I was jamming with John Bella (piano) Steve Cerra (drums) and Harvey Newmark (then, now and always my favorite bass player) and I ended my solo on a blues with the last chorus from “Audrey”/”Makin’ Time” and Harvey murmured “Yeah, Dave.” I like to think I had the grace to tell him it wasn’t my line. I haven’t heard either recording in a very long time; which one to release must have been a very difficult choice.
Doug Ramsey says
The melody of the last chorus is a blues line they played from the earliest days of the Brubeck quartet and probably before, when Desmond often sat in with the Brubeck Trio. On the DBQ Jazz Goes To College album, they called it “Balcony Rock.” The name stuck, although for obvious reasons many people think that the theme is named “Audrey.” If you would like to see and hear Brubeck and Desmond later in life perform it as a duet, go here.
Tony Burrell, II says
Mr. Desmond plays that same “Audrey” tag line on the tune “North by Northwest” on his Summertime album, which was arranged by Don Sebesky and had among others, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Airto Moreira and Leo Morris [who is much better known as Idris Muhammad] in the supporting cast along with a top notch group of New York’s finest session players.
David, thanks for posting that album cover! The second I saw it, I ‘heard’ the track in my head for the first time in years. Good to know the origin of the last-chorus melody too…It didn’t sound quite ‘right’ the first time I heard the track, in probably 1960 or 61, and now I know why.
I have a real conceptual (and also hardware) problem with ebooks, and I’m hoping that one of these days a print-on-demand version of your book, Doug, will be available. Maybe that’s a dead horse at this point but there, I said it. Thanks for keeping Desmond’s music present for all of us.
Peter Bergmann says
There is no better way to celebrate Paul than with his playing “Audrey”.
I am sure he would have liked it. And she would have liked it even more.
It’s so good that your struggle has been a success. Thanks a lot, Doug.
al morrison says
I absolutely loved this man from the high school days of “Take Five.” I fashioned my sound and playing style from 1962 ’til today on Paul. I sold my bari and bought a really bad looking 1950 Super balanced action Selmer alto, just like his, after playing a Mark 6 for 55 years. I searched the internet and found the exact Gregory alto mouthpiece, with his tip opening and facing. I have transcribed several of his early recordings. I drink Dewars scotch, not with his vigor however! Im looking at an old Red Fantasy LP I have on my mantel. I have every article and read your book twice. I recently sold my LPs, but not his. Thanks for bringing him to the public. Im only sorry that I didnt barge to the band stand when he and the group played at my school, Duquesne U., on their farewell tour. I would have, but he was too cool, and I didnt want to bother him. I hope I can thank him somewhere in the great beyond.
Sincerely, Al Morrison, Local 60-471, Pittsburgh Pa.
Simon Marshall says
Hi, Al. I am glad to hear that someone feels the same way as I about Paul Desmond’s playing. He is like something you can’t shake off even though you know he has been gone a long time. His music has so much substance that I keep going back to it because my soul needs it and then I’m better again.
Simon from Scotland
Frank Roellinger says
Al, Paul appeared to be aloof but I think he was just shy. I approached him twice and he was quite friendly, remarkably tolerant of stupid remarks I made the first time. I did better the second time and he made me feel like an old friend, even played “For All We Know” at my request. This is one of my fondest memories. I too look forward to finding him in the “great beyond”.
Don Conner says
Thanks for posting this,Doug.Paul is certainly at his most soulful and inventive, particularly on “Audrey.” Has it really been thirty-eight years since his passing?
Great camera work and “Audrey” is heart-breakingly, breath-takingly stunning. Thank you for bringing such pieces to us.
Thanks, Doug, for reminding us all of how important Paul’s music has been to us.
Frank McDonough says
Thank you for remembering Paul and for making this film available to us all. Your Take Five book rekindled my love of jazz, and has made me realize after buying all the recommended albums of Paul that he had no peer, not Bird, Johnny Hodges or anyone else. In his best work, his mastery of the music and his horn resulted in his being able create without physical limitations. Bird reached that less frequently and Rabbit focused on a narrower series of phrasing ideas. Paul, we thank you!!!
Michael Robinson says
Thanks for this fantastic video and the song, Audrey, which I’ve never seen or heard before! Funny, I just watched for the first time Roman Holiday, which was her film debut,
Listening to Desmond, I noticed more than ever before the enormous influence of Artie Shaw on all the dimensions of his music, including timbre, phrasing, articulation, dynamics, shape, and what Aaron Copland termed the long line.
My absolute favorite recording by Desmond or Brubeck is Jazz Impressions of Eurasia, including modal jazz that predates the Kind of Blue album. Very likely, the participants on that more famous album heard the innovative Dave Brubeck recording. It’s puzzled me why other jazz artists of the time never seem to have played the opening cut of Jazz Impressions of Eurasia, “Nomad,” which is a brilliant tune. Same goes for “The Golden Horn,” which together with “Calcutta Blues” demonstrates what treasure may be found in the essentially modal forms of Eurasia, the Middle East, India, and elsewhere; a notion John Coltrane took to heart.
Bernie Rochester says
That’s such a great trackand such a great story. When is someone going to put together all the great Brubeck/Desmond stories into a biopic? But then, who would play Dave and Paul?
Michael Baughan says
Truly unrequited love there for Desmond. Thanks much, Doug
Joseph Frame says
Great post on my FAVORITE sax player! Thanks.
Frank Roellinger says
Thanks for continuing the tradition, Doug. When it seemed that no Desmond entry would appear this May I thought about sending you this link, but here it is anyway. Perhaps a number of your readers have not heard it.
Not surprisingly, it contains another ineffable bit of sequencing beginning at about 10:44, that I cannot recall hearing on any other Desmond recording. This one gets in my mind and stays there for days.
(Click on the words “this link” in Mr. Roellinger’s messageDR)
Terence Smith says
Frank, thank you for sharing this link to a performance I otherwise would have never heard. Desmond’s solo is outstanding even in the lineup of other Desmond solos on this tune. I think Lester Young, who himself always found something new in “These Foolish Things,” would have loved this !
And thank you to Doug Ramsey for reminding us that the Gjon Mili film, which I think many people wondered about for years as they read the LP liner notes while listening to “Audrey,” is now miraculously available
Wayne Tucker says
I have followed your blog for several years, and I always enjoy your Desmond entries. The video is a great way to remember him this year, and I hope you have an easier time of it next year. As I have said about him before, we will always have the music–and today you gave us that plus a nice insight to the inner man. Thanks.
Richard Womack says
I am not a musician. I am just a guy who got hooked on the quartet, fell in love with Desmond’s interpretations, and was lucky enough to see the Dave Brubeck Quartet a dozen times. I still listen to them often.
Tom Myron says
This is the kind of thing that only you could bring us and I simply can’t thank you enough. A famous critic (it might have been Rex Reed) defined ‘Audrey Hepburn’ as “proof of the existence of God.” Your friend Paul is in the exact same category. Let’s hear it for the proof.
Jim Brown says
If you love Desmond as I do, you probably also love Lester Young. Dave and Paul were probably putting up with Mili because of the wonderful short film he had done in 1944 with Pres, Sweets Edison, Jo Jones, Barney Kessel, Red Callender, Sid Catlett, Illinois Jacquet, and Marie Bryant. Mili attempted a follow up in 1950 with Pres, Bird, Bill Harris, Coleman Hawkins, Sweets, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, and Buddy Rich. There were issues with sound (the set was noisy, so the sound was dubbed, there were re-shoots, etc.), so lip sync is flaky. But we’re talking excellent music, picture and sound quality with these wonderful players at their peak.
Both sessions — 1944, and 1950 with out-takes — were produced by Norman Granz, and are on a 2-CD set called Improvisation. There’s also a LOT of other great music from Montreaux, including Dizzy, Oscar Peterson, Duke, Ella, Basie, Clark Terry, Joe Pass, Benny Carter, Zoot, and Jaws. This 2-CD set is sort of a sampler for the half dozen or so CDs Norman produced with his artists at Montreaux in the late 70s. All are worth owning.
John Bolger says
So many thanks Doug; a wonderful tribute to the best alto sax player that ever lived, bar none.
Time to have a dry martini in his memory.
Charlton Price says
I doubt you can top this great post in your annual tributes to Paul Desmond.
So just please just post this again and again……