Desmond’s Quotes // How High The Moon (Again)

For the last few weeks, everyone and their mother has been abuzz with excitement about the total eclipse, billed as the Great American Eclipse.  To commemorate the event, I thought I’d spotlight a jazz tune all about lunar happenings.

This galactic installment of ‘Desmond’s Quotes’ again features the Dave Brubeck Quartet performing the jazz war horse ‘How High The Moon’ in front of a night club audience.  This time, the time is March of 1953, the place, Chicago, Illinois and venue is the Blue Note.  This recording is from an NBC air check of a radio broadcast, the same that yielded the performance where Desmond’s musical mind made for an unforgettable night for two listeners (discussed here).  On this track, Desmond is inspired and on a roll, delivering reference after reference to other tunes in addition to tasty phrasology.

6 1953 Oberlin Lloyd Davis Crotty Desmond
The Dave Brubeck Quartet lineup of 1953.  Paul holds his sax, Ron Crotty holds his bass, Lloyd Davis holds his drum, and Dave holds their paychecks.

Brubeck starts things off with a strutting statement of the melody, playing one chorus when Desmond flies in with a rare misfire, quickly recovers, and is off to the races.   Desmond’s first quote appears in the end of his first chorus.  It’s a rather long quote of the song ‘Star Eyes’, an old tune from a 1940’s movie that enjoyed popularity as a jazz standard in the 1950’s and 60’s and is sporadically heard today.  Desmond seems a bit unsure in the execution of the quote at one point, but again recovers without dropping the groove.  His ensuing chorus is filled with taste and logic, especially toward the end of the chorus where he plays a series of notes that sets himself up for a musical phrase that he plays at the beginning of his third chorus.  I’m not sure if it’s an actual quote from a song or just a well-known musical phrase, as I’ve heard it before in a choral/classical music context as well as a jazz context.

He makes what sounds like a passing reference to Charlie Parker’s ‘Constellation’, playing a similar cadence and rhythm, the only difference being the note he ends the lick on.  Almost directly after this quote, Paul launches into the Christmas chestnut  ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’, with Dave Brubeck obliging with some complementary chords.   Paul ends his solo in a way that sounds like he was mid-flight and decided to abruptly call it quits.  I wonder if he had a visual cue that the broadcast was about to end, as the recording fades out in the middle of Brubeck’s first chorus.

I’m sure Paul threw some more quotes in there (is that a bit of ‘The Mexican Hat Dance’ Paul plays near the end of his solo?), but as I’ve learned over the years, he frequently quoted songs that are pretty obscure and unheard of these days.  These three quotes though are amazing and quite funny.  When I first heard it, I was amazed, but when I heard that ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’ bit, I laughed.  The fact that he was able to incorporate all of those split-second ideas into his solo at the fleet tempo the group was in is a stupendous feat on its own.  The humor comes with the context that these quotes were given in.  Star eyes, constellations, and angels way up high.  What could they possibly have in common?  And why did I think of this tune today? Hmmm…

First, here’s the Brubeck quartet’s performance.  Along with Dave at the piano and Paul on alto sax, Ron Crotty is on bass and Lloyd Davis is on drums.  As always, try and find the quotes yourself, first!

Here’s ‘Star Eyes’, the song he first quotes. This is the original version, recorded by Jimmy Dorsey in 1943.

Bird’s original, ‘Constellation’ (with a young Miles Davis on trumpet). Do you think Paul Desmond actually quotes it?  He made a similar in another version of ‘How High The Moon’.

And lastly, ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’.

The ‘Star Eyes’ quote surfaces around the 1:16 mark, followed by that familiar musical phrase at 1:58.  Two phrases that could be a sly reference to ‘Constellation’ appears at 2:02, and ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’ takes place at the 2:09 mark.  Try and find that ‘Mexican Hat Dance’ reference!

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