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Paul Desmond

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Emil Breitenfeld (1924 -1977) Alto saxophonist

Dave Brubeck Collection, Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library
Paul Desmond studied clarinet at San Francisco State University and played in various local groups before joining the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951. Because his career was almost solely with this group until its dissolution in 1967, he shared its success without receiving the recognition that was his due. Desmond continued to play occasionally with Brubeck in the 1970s, notably in 1975, when the two men recorded an album of duets. He also appeared at festivals and toured Europe, Australia, and Japan for George Wein. Later he worked in New York at the Half Note with his own group, which included Jim Hall (1974), and in Toronto as a soloist with a Canadian rhythm section (1974-5).

Desmond was one of the most capable representatives of the "cool" tendency in alto saxophone jazz, of which Lee Konitz was the chief exponent, and which Lester Young, Benny Carter, and others had foreshadowed in the late 1930s. His tone had a luminous quality, consistent over the instrument's whole range, that was particularly reminiscent of Carter, but his most notable gift as an improviser was his power of sustained melodic invention, which depended in part on an unusually imaginative use of sequence. Desmond's independent recordings, with the sidemen Gerry Mulligan (1962) and Hall (1959-65), for example, do him more justice than his numerous ones with Brubeck, for whom he composed the popular Take Five in 5/4 time.

The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For personal, non-commercial use only. Copying or other reproduction is prohibited.
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