Paul Desmond’s penchant for slipping quotes from other songs or solos into his own solos is well known among jazz musicians and his fans. Desmond’s discography is rife with examples. Dave Brubeck often talked about the way Desmond would weave together different quotes from various songs to tell a story or communicate a message. In jazz parlance, a quote describes the art of taking the melody of a song (or parts of another musician’s solo) and playing it over a different song. This requires a knowledge of musical harmony and chords. Paul Desmond not only had an intimate knowledge of musical theory, but took it farther. He delighted in placing quotes in places that were, at first glance, harmonically incompatible. This practice earned Desmond the unofficial title of the unrivaled master of musical quotes.
Many people have written about some of Desmond’s more famous instances of quoting within his solos, some examples being his moving solo on ‘You Go To My Head’ from an October 1952 engagement at Storyville in Boston and his inspired performance of ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ from March 1953 at an Oberlin college date. I’d like to instead focus on other lesser known, personal favorite moments of Desmond greatness in a soon-to-be-regular series cleverly entitled Desmond’s Quotes. In this first piece, I’d like to showcase a particularly obscure yet rather tasty quote from a 1958 performance of the song ‘Gone With The Wind’.
‘Gone With The Wind’ (completely unrelated to the movie) was a favorite of the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the 1950’s, leaving behind at least eight different versions recorded between 1954 and 1959 as well as an album by the same name. While all of these versions are noteworthy in their own right (literally, each one is a gem for various reasons), the particular performance I would like to focus on comes from a studio transcription made in the summer of 1958. These short transcriptions were subsequently used in a program to recruit for the Navy (fun fact: comedian Jack Benny’s television/radio announcer Don Wilson was the announcer on the Navy program). The personnel on these performances include Dave Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto sax, Joe Morello on drums, and Joe Benjamin on bass. The quartet jump right into it, swinging infectiously from the very note. In the middle of Paul’s second chorus, he begins toying with a motif, and he later develops it into a tasty quote of an old tune popularized by the Nat ‘King’ Cole Trio called ‘Hit That Jive Jack’. First, here’s the Nat ‘King’ Cole Trio’s recording of ‘Hit That Jive Jack’. It was one of their earliest recordings as a trio, recorded on 22 October, 1941 in New York City and featuring Oscar Moore on guitar, Wesley Prince on bass, and Nat ‘King’ Cole on piano; all three provided the vocals.
Have that melody in your head? Good. Take a listen to the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s recording of ‘Gone With The Wind’ and see if you can find it. I always thought this song was a rather obscure novelty tune, but leave it to Desmond to not just know it but be able to fit it into his solo. His reasoning behind using it is all but lost to history, but it is rather amusing to note that 1.) they were doing ‘Gone With The Wind’ and 2.) the song ‘Hit That Jive Jack’ is about a guy who is in a hurry and has no time to spare. One could say the guy is in such a hurry, he’s gone. With the wind…