Normally, I pay little attention to my smart phone, but today it alerted me to several social media messages pointing out that I had not posted about Paul Desmond on his 92nd birthday. Believe me, it was on my to-do list, but the list was hijacked by a succession of duties, all necessary, important and too boring to describe. I compensated as I went about my business by repeatedly whistling “Take Five.” Fortunately for me, if not for Desmond fans in earlier time zones, where I live it is still Paul’s birthday.
The photograph above is one of my favorites from a rehearsal of the all-star band for Duke Ellington’s 70th birthday celebration at the White House in 1969. We see Hank Jones at the piano, much of Milt Hinton on bass, Gerry Mulligan and his baritone saxophone and Desmond with his alto sax. Jones was the designated pianist for the all-stars, but Billy Taylor, Earl Hines and Brubeck sat in on one tune apiece. Brubeck’s guest shot was on an Ellington composition that he and Desmond often opened with during the nearly twenty years of the Brubeck Quartet. I was sitting directly behind Ellington at the concert that night. From my notes for the Blue Note album of the event:
When Desmond did a perfect Johnny Hodges impression during “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be,” Ellington sat bolt upright and looked astonished, a reaction that pleased Desmond when I described it.
Not that you asked, but there’s more about Paul in my Desmond biography. The book is still available in hard cover at exorbitant prices and, more reasonably, as a Kindle ebook. To find it, go here.
To appropriate (again) what Dave Brubeck told me when we were talking about his friend—“Boy, do I miss Paul Desmond.”