Audrey- A Musical Appreciation

One of the most famous tunes Paul Desmond ‘wrote’ was a song named ‘Audrey’.  Paul had a big crush on Audrey Hepburn, and at a recording session in 1954, he and the Brubeck Quartet improvised a minor blues with her in mind.  In the ensuing years, the Dave Brubeck Quartet would occasionally return to the song in live performances.  One of the aspects of the song that makes it such a beguiling and moving piece of music is the tag at the end, where the band moves from a minor key to a major key and Paul plays a haunting line that takes the song out.  This tag, despite being closely associated with ‘Audrey’, first appeared at the end of ‘Balcony Rock’, a blues performance on Brubeck’s ‘Jazz Goes To College’ album.  I’d love to know where that tag comes from,as Paul Desmond  kept that phrase in his pocket throughout his life.  Desmond’s biographer Doug Ramsey suggests that it goes as far back as Desmond and Brubeck’s early days in the 1940’s.

68fdec9b-8874-bf1a-5df9-59abe45ea65fI wanted to gather all of the many different versions of ‘Audrey’ in one place, both for ease of access and to compare the different flavors.  It’s a shame the Brubeck Quartet didn’t revisit this tune more often on recordings.  Because that tag is so tasty, I also include the many blues tunes where Paul used it.  As with many jazz tunes, the names often came after the performance, so although there may be a plethora of names, the tune is basically the same.  The main difference was that the ‘Audrey’ derivatives were played in a minor key, while the ‘Balcony Rock’ derivatives stayed in the major key.  Let’s dive in!

1954

3117aaf85315042a52304eb155900414Balcony Rock

Recorded 26 March, 1954 at University of Michigan Ann Harbor

Personnel:

Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax

Dave Brubeck-  Piano

Bob Bates-  Bass

Joe Dodge-  Drums

This is where it all began.  After three years, “Balcony Rock” was the first time the Brubeck Quartet played a blues that was captured on tape.  Released as the opener to Brubeck’s first Columbia album ‘Jazz Goes To College’, it’s a long excursion in the good old B-flat blues, and a lesson in swinging at the slowest of tempos.  They make it work, with Paul throwing a fun quote of ”Mexican Dance” in his solo.  After Brubeck’s solo, Desmond and Brubeck engage in bit of counterpoint before Desmond plays the famous tag, made all the more haunting by the reverberation and Brubeck’s spare accompaniment.  He plays it twice, and the band takes it out, thus introducing the record-buying public to this mysterious coda.

Why the name ”Balcony Rock”?  According to the rather informative and detailed liner notes to the record album (written by George Avakian), it was so-named “because it had the kind of beat which…(the kids in the second balcony) appreciate to the full…”  As for the tag at the end, Avakian writes that “no particular melody appears (the real “melody,” if you insist on ”Balcony Rock” having one, finally shows up in the last two choruses!)…finally Paul and Dave fall into the melody referred to above – a singularly plaintive strain which is reprised in the last chorus with Dave playing harmony under Paul as this incredibly beautiful blues comes to an end”.

pHILADELPHIA mUSUEM sCHOLL OF aRT MID 1950
Jazz at college

 

 

 

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‘Back Bay Blues”

Recorded April of 1954 at Storyville, Boston, MA

Personnel:

Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax

Dave Brubeck-  Piano

Bob Bates-  Bass

Joe Dodge-  Drums

Recorded shortly after the college date that produced “Balcony Rock” and released on Brubeck’s second Columbia album ‘At Storyville 1954’, this outing on the blues is basically the same tune, taken at a more brisk tempo.  Again, the liner notes are illuminating.  “The thematic structure of this blues is the same as “Balcony Rock”…”  The notes go on to explain the title of song.  “The title, ‘Back Bay’, refers to the district in Boston where the Storyville night club is located.”  We don’t get to hear the ending of this performance, as it came from a radio broadcast and the announcer John McLellan cuts in on Bob’s bass solo.  These two blues performances set up the group for their famous meeting with the blues in the studio towards the end of the year.

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Mid-performance at Storyville

 

 

BTT

 

“Audrey”

Recorded 13-14 October, 1954 in New York

Personnel:

Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax

Dave Brubeck-  Piano

Bob Bates-  Bass

Joe Dodge-  Drums

In the fall of 1954, Brubeck made his first studio album for Columbia and his first studio album in almost two years, entitled ‘Brubeck Time’.  Present in the studio that day was Gjon Mili, a famed photographer and filmmaker who had been convinced to make a film of the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  After a high-powered romp through what would become “Stompin’ For Mili”, George Avakian suggested the group play a relaxed minor blues to temper the excitement of the previous tune.  Brubeck’s liner notes explain what happened next.  To the notes we go!

“”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.  Hence, the title.  It’s significance, I trust will not be lost to the male population.”

Dave sets a pastoral tone, then Paul sails in as Bob’s bates starts a head-bobbing walk.  In what may be a humorous reference to the spontaneity of the proceedings, Paul’s “melody” to what became titled ‘Audrey’ is a veiled reference to the old pop song ‘Without A Song’.  His solo is tasty, beautiful and witty, using Brubeck’s piano as fodder for his own musical inspiration.  Brubeck picks it up where Desmond leaves it, playing subdued, sustained chords, then signals a change from the minor key into the major.  Desmond reenters with the familiar ‘Balcony Rock’ tag, and the performance is over.

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In the studio making ‘Brubeck Time’, 1954

Brubeck gave Desmond co-authorship of the tune.  Despite Paul’s infatuation with Audrey Hepburn, he never met her, despite getting very close.  In fact, during the quartet’s engagement at the New York night club Basin Street, Paul would run outside to catch a glimpse of Audrey as she walked from a theatre close by to her limo.  Not once did he actually say anything to her.  Little did he know that Hepburn loved ‘her song’ as she called it, listening to it each night.

 

 

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“Makin’ Time”

Recorded 13-14 October, 1954 in New York

Personnel:

Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax

Dave Brubeck-  Piano

Bob Bates-  Bass

Joe Dodge-  Drums

Released on a sampler album on Columbia entitled ‘I Like Jazz’, this deep cut (it was the last track on the album) is a second take of the minor blues, recorded the same day as “Audrey” was.  According to the liner notes, it was made only seconds after the tune that became “Audrey” was played, and thus is in the same vein.  Listening to it, it’s subtly different.  Yes, it’s a minor blues in B-flat like ‘Audrey’, but the tempo is a bit quicker, Bob walks his bass from the very beginning, and most notably, Paul’s solo is much more impassioned and forceful.  It’s a different personality of Audrey.  The format, however, is much the same, with Brubeck playing one chorus before Paul comes back with the familiar coda to close the tune out.  The liner notes don’t mention the story behind the title “Makin’ Time”, but I’m almost certain the title was pegged on afterwards and probably alludes to the album ‘Brubeck Time’.  This alternate take is available only on vinyl, and since the album it was on didn’t make much mention of it, this track remains relatively unknown and hard to find.

 

 

 

MILIStompin’ For Mili- Short Film

Recorded 13-14 October, 1954 (audio),    10 November, 1954 (film)

Personnel:

Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax

Dave Brubeck-  Piano

Bob Bates-  Bass

Joe Dodge-  Drums

Filmed by famed photographer Gjon Mili, this 10-minute short film features the Dave Brubeck Quartet “playing” through “Audrey” and “Stompin’ For Mili” as recorded in the studio.  These are the same songs released on ‘Brubeck Time’.  Well, sorta.  Besides being noteworthy for it’s former rarity and it’s artistic quality, the film reveals an intro to “Audrey” not included on the album or any subsequent commercial releases.  Dodge and Bates set the pace, with Bates seeming to wander around a bit, even hitting a major note before settling into a B-flat minor blues.

In a radio interview with Willis Connover, Brubeck explained how the group made the film.

“Mili wanted the music the same.  But he didn’t know it was going to be so great in the studio that he should have had the camera there at the same time; or else he didn’t want to work that way.  He wanted us to come back and play what we played…so we had to reenact playing, and we had a fellow write out all the music for us.  And then Mili filmed it.  So it turned out that we turned the speakers loud as possible, and we memorized what we did and actually played it again simultaneously and then he filmed it.  And he got tremendous shots this way.”

The result of this crafty way of recreating the magic is a visually stimulating jazz performance, as well as some of the best footage of this edition of the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

 

1955

 

1955 Newport Jazz Festival“Back Bay Blues”

Recorded 17 July, 1955 at the Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, RI

Personnel:

Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax

Dave Brubeck-  Piano

Bob Bates-  Bass

Joe Dodge-  Drums

Alternately called “Shish Kebab” on numerous bootleg albums, this jam on the blues comes from an old Voice of America recording of Brubeck’s appearance at the 2nd annual Newport Jazz Festival.  The sound quality isn’t the greatest, but it’s listenable.  Echoing the liner notes of the ‘At Storyville 1954’ album, the structure of this performance is identical to both “Balcony Rock” and “Back Bay Blues”, with Bates taking a bass solo as in “Back Bay”.  Unlike that night club performance though, his bass spotlight goes uninterrupted and the rest of the group comes back for another chorus of counterpoint before Desmond starts his mysterious line, signaling the end of the tune.

Bob Bates Dodge
The Dave Brubeck Quartet on the street, with Joe Dodge, Dave Brubeck, Bob Bates, and Paul Desmond

 

 

 

jazzzzz”Closing Time Blues”

Recorded 9 August, 1955 at Basin Street, New York

Personnel:

Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax

Dave Brubeck-  Piano

Bob Bates-  Bass

Joe Dodge-  Drums

This informal jam session on the blues was taped live at Basin Street, a night club in New York City and a frequent stop for Brubeck’s group in the 1950’s.  Recordings made at this club the previous month and the previous year ended up being released on his third Columbia album ‘Jazz Red Hot and Cool’.  This track was a bonus added to the CD reissue of the same album and comes from August of 1955.  Kinda makes you wonder what else is hiding in Sony’s vaults.

In this blues performance, Brubeck kicks things off with an intro and a lengthy full-bodied solo.  He then takes it down a notch before vocally letting Desmond know it’s his turn.  Desmond’s solo is more concise.  After a bit of counterpoint with Brubeck, Desmond strikes up the “Balcony Rock” tag, playing it in a much more cavalier manner than normal.

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Live in New York City, 1954 or ’55, with Joe Dodge, Bob Bates, Dave Brubeck, and Paul Desmond

1956

 

RAD”A Minor Thing”

Recorded February 1956 at Basin Street, New York

Personnel:

Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax

Dave Brubeck-  Piano

Norman Bates-  Bass

Joe Dodge-  Drums

Two years after “Audrey” was recorded, the Brubeck Quartet was finally captured on tape playing it again.  Culled from a late-night radio broadcast from Basin Street, this version of “Audrey” was entitled, logically enough, “A Minor Thing”.  Unfortunately, the broadcast comes in on the group after they started, but it sounds like they just began.  Paul quotes from himself, referencing his original solo to “Audrey” numerous times on this performance as he would do again in later years.

The guys in the group don’t seem to care that they’re being beamed to radios across the country, with Dave talking and asking questions and the other guys laughing and replying.  Bob Bates’ brother Norman took over the bass chair in 1956 and is featured with a short solo.  The clicking you hear is from drummer Joe Chevrolet’s drum stick and wire brush, something jazz hipsters liked but jazz critics ignored.  Dave and Paul engage in some humorous counterpoint, with Dave inserting a few bars of “Blues In The Night”, which Paul picks up.  This segues nicely into a tonal change from the minor to the major as Paul plays the famous theme, managing to make it sound more cheerful and bright than normal (no doubt aided by Dave’s chordal responses on the piano).  The announcer that night for NBC’s Monitor show, Fred Collins, says it best, calling the tag “dandy” and Paul’s alto sax “tasty”.  Amen.

brubeck57-1
The Brubeck Quartet at Newport, 1956, with Brubeck, Desmond, Norman Bates, and Joe Dodge

 

 

Music Showcase- Television Show

Recorded 4 March, 1956

Personnel:

  • Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax
  • Dave Brubeck-  Piano
  • Norman Bates-  Bass
  • Joe Dodge-  Drums

The TV host on the show seems ill-prepared, but Brubeck’s Quartet is in excellent form on this show, as the other two parts of this half-hour episode prove.  On this clip, after running through a breezy “Take The ‘A’ Train”, the group delivers a sensitive but solid treatment of “Audrey”.  The announcer explains the format of the song as Brubeck begins the intro, then Desmond floats in.  He briefly alludes to the ‘melody’, then departs from it and starts his improv.  He again quotes from his own original solo in his second chorus, then uses a phrase starting in the fifth bar of his third chorus that he would return to again in later years on another minor-key blues, “Koto Song”.

Brubeck quickly moves to the major key, throwing a tasty quote of Duke Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” that gets Desmond’s amused attention.  Following Bates’ solo, Desmond concludes the tune.

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Playland at the beach.

 

 

“Pilgrim’s Progress”

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Recorded 3 August, 1956 at Stratford, Ontario, Canada

Personnel:

  • Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax
  • Dave Brubeck-  Piano
  • Norman Bates-  Bass
  • Joe Dodge-  Drums

Taped at the Stratford Jazz Festival in Ontario, Canada, this is one of the longest versions of “Audrey” on record.  Certainly it’s one of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s more plaintive, searching outing on this minor blues.  This track is another example of a “where’s the rest of the music from this performance”.  More than likely, Brubeck’s entire set at Stratford was taped by Columbia and never released, save for this track picked by George Avakian specifically for this album.

The intro is mysterious and almost eerie, Brubeck’s spare minor chords ringing out in the venue.  Norman sneaks in, then Joe slinks in as Paul states a variation of the “Audrey” melody that sounds a lot more like “Without A Song”, revealing the possible inspiration for the “Audrey” theme.  Paul doesn’t reference his original solo on this outing, instead choosing to use Stravinsky’s “Histoire du Soldat” as a point of reference.  His entire solo is in a different vein than his other encounters with the minor blues.

dave-brubeck-quartet-1956-by-marvin-koner
On the roof of Brubeck’s home, Oakland, CA 1956

Brubeck’s solo is full of dynamics and tension, heightened by Bates’ stalking, simplistic bass lines.  Dodge’s accents on the drums contribute to building, until Brubeck thunders away on the piano and Dodge lays the swing down on his unique ‘China’ cymbal.  Norman Bates gets a whopping three choruses of solo space before Paul returns, exchanging musical words with Dave for another chorus before the song comes to a sudden, almost unexpected conclusion.  Paul’s final note is a major key, highlights the spontaneous nature of the ending.  As was the case with the first time they played ‘Audrey’, it was a purely improvisational piece of music; anything goes.

What about that name “Pilgrim’s Progress” anyhow?  This track appeared on a two-record album put out by ‘Playboy Magazine’ in 1957, a remarkable album that was the culmination of Playboy’s first annual ‘Playboy Jazz Poll’.

Side-story:  The votes were gathered in the fall of 1956, tabulated by IBM (!!!!), and then printed inside the album.  The artists that scored first or second (or third or fourth) were honored by having a recording of theirs put on the records.  One of these days I’ll write a post about the album, because it’s truly fascinating.

ANYwho, in the entry for Dave Brubeck, Leonard Feather writes that the song was “dedicated to Playboy’s favorite Playmate, Janet Pilgrim.”  I wasn’t aware who Janet Pilgrim was, so I googled her.  Mercy.  For those who aren’t familiar with Janet Pilgrim, I included the most kosher yet appropriate picture of her I could find and below.  And you thought the 1950’s were quaint and prim.  dc57edf87033d120557fd3a4511c9694I have a feeling that Paul Desmond was the one who not only dedicated the song to her but came up with that title, too.  Paul Desmond and the good folks at Columbia probably chose this performance from one of the many taped concerts in the vaults, and since it already went by the name of one lady, renamed it conveniently for another.  It’s got ‘Desmond’ written all over it, and I have a hard time imagining Dave Brubeck the family man even reading Playboy. Here’s to you Paul.  Janet Pilgrim with a dry martini.

 

1958

 

“Audrey”Free-Trade-Hall-1958

Recorded 20 February, 1958 at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, England

Personnel:

  • Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax
  • Dave Brubeck-  Piano
  • Eugene Wright-  Bass
  • Joe Morello-  Drums

This is the earliest commercially-available recording of what became known as the ‘Classic’ Quartet, and the earliest example of them playing “Audrey”.  Released on the bootleg album ‘At The Free Trade Hall, 1958’, the performance is incomplete and the audio is rough, but the music is listenable.  Stemming from a live concert early in their European tour (they wouldn’t be back in America until May), the group sounds inspired as they apparently play the tune as an encore.  Dave plays the introductory chords and Paul begins to chuckle.

35 City Hall Newcastle Feb 1958
England, 1958.

He takes it at a much quicker pace than ever, and Paul’s statement of the familiar “Audrey” melody sounds almost rushed as a result.  He liberally draws upon his original solo for inspiration from the onset, finding fertile ground in a particular phrase from the studio rendition.  Then, in his last chorus, he manages to make George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland” fit into the minor blues’ first six bars like it was the most natural thing in the world.  The “Birdland” melody sounds more plaintive and melancholy wrapped in it’s new harmonic surroundings.  I’m sure the British audience appreciated Desmond’s salute to England’s native son.  The recording fades out in the middle of Dave’s solo, depriving us of hearing if Desmond cued the end of the song with his standard tag.

 

1961

The Jazz of Dave Brubeck-  CBS Television Special1 (20)

Recorded 1961; air date 31 December, 1961

Personnel:

  • Paul Desmond- Alto Sax
  • Dave Brubeck- Piano
  • Eugene Wright-  Bass
  • Joe Morello-  Drums

Technically this one doesn’t count, but then again it totally counts.  It’s almost certainly the most unknown edition of “Audrey” on the internet.  Well, that I’m aware of.  On YouTube, that is.  The group doesn’t actually perform “Audrey” for the camera, but the song can be clearly heard during a section of the film beginning at the 7:25-minute mark.

We only get a few seconds of music as footage of Brubeck and his family flash by before Walter Cronkite’s narration pipes in over the music.  The music continues to play though, giving us a teasing sound sample of Brubeck’s gutsy piano, accentuated by Wright’s two-to-the-bar bass and Morello’s punchy brushwork.  As Cronkite talks about Brubeck’s days as a cowboy and his family life, Desmond’s sax can be heard engaging in some tasty counterpoint before moving into B-flat major and the familiar strains of the ‘Balcony Rock’ theme close out not only the song but the entire scene of the TV special.  I wish a soundtrack of the TV special was released, as the group is on fire on the version of “St. Louis Blues” that opens the special and the “Take Five” that closes the special.  It’s an “Audrey” tease.

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1964

“Audrey”SWI

Recorded 28 September, 1964 in Basil, Switzerland

Personnel:

  • Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax
  • Dave Brubeck-  Piano
  • Eugene Wright-  Bass
  • Joe Morello-  Drums

Originally available only as an extremely rare recorded-off-the-radio bootleg album that circulated among collectors, a European record label made the tape (with drastically improved sound) commercially available on a CD entitled ‘Swiss Radio Days- Zurich 1964’.  Sonically superior to the 1958 recording, this is the best example-really the only complete example- of “Audrey” as played by the ‘Classic’ quartet.  This is the last known/commercially-available recording of the Dave Brubeck Quartet playing anything resembling “Audrey”.  This same year, Brubeck wrote “Koto Song”, a minor blues based on the Japanese instrument, the koto.  It’s possible that this tune filled the role of “Audrey”; there is recorded documentation of this song from 1964 on thru the group’s end in 1967.

Playing for the Swiss audience that fall day in 1964, the group sounds excellent.  Brubeck’s standard intro makes way for Desmond’s lilting sax.  He states the melody before commencing his lyrical journey.  Using his original 1954 solo as a springboard, Desmond explores the minor blues’ form before handing it over to Brubeck.  As Brubeck begins his second chorus, Wright changes the pulse of the song by moving from an even four walk to a line that emphasizes beats one and three.  Brubeck voices his approval at this new, strutting rhythm, using it to build his solo.

STOCK_1958_Dave_Brubeck_ArchiveAfter toying with the tonality, tossing out chords that could be major or minor, he swings into the major key, getting an affirmative “yeah” from Desmond in the process.  He brings it back down, as he did in Ontario eight years earlier, clearing the way for Wright’s bass solo.  Desmond moves back in for a chorus of call and response before taking the tune out with the simple figure now at least ten years old.  The Quartet would never (at least on record or tape) record this tune again.

1968

“North By Northwest”Paul Desmond - summertime

Recorded 9 October 1968 in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Personnel:

  • Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax
  • Wayne Andre, Paul Faulise, Urbie Green, J. J. Johnson, Bill Watrous, Kai Winding –  Trombone
  • Burt Collins, John Eckert, Joe Shepley, Marvin Stamm –  Trumpet, Flugelhorn
  • Ray Alonge, Jimmy Buffington, Tony Miranda – French horn
  • George Marge –  Flute, Oboe
  • Bob Tricarico –  Flute, Bassoon
  • Herbie Hancock –  Piano
  • Ron Carter-  Bass
  • Leo Morris-  Drums

Fresh from a year of lounging and no longer tied to Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond entered the studios in the fall of 1968 and created a perfect, tasty album of music.  Entitled ‘Summertime’, the entire album is an amusing and witty testament to the mind of Paul Desmond.  For instance, flying in the face of the album’s title, the cover art is close shot of thick icicles.  After 17 years of only having Brubeck as a pianist, it’s a revelation to hear Herbie Hancock of all people accompanying Desmond’s saxophone.

On Desmond’s original blues, given the name “North By Northwest” (the liner notes state that the name is frivolous and means next to nothing, although when it comes to Paul Desmond, nothing is frivolous and means nothing), Ron Carter (!!!) opens up by walking the bass.  He seems to be favoring a minor flavor before moving into a major tonality, not unlike the format of “Audrey”. Paul Desmond - summertime 01 Echoing Carter’s bass, Desmond’s opening phrases hover somewhere between the minor key, flirting with the darker palette as Carter sticks to the major blues outline.  Desmond then sails into the major blues whole-heartedly, playing his tasty sax, at times abetted by Don Sebesky’s arrangement of horns and woodwinds.  In a dual nod to an old blues tune of his (named “Sacre Blues”) and to Stravinsky, Desmond ends his solo with a quote from “Le Sacre de Printemps”.  Herbie Hancock’s comping follows Desmond perfectly, recalling Brubeck’s sensitivity at times.

Following Hancock’s tasty solo, Desmond returns for another measure before flowing into the familiar ‘Balcony Rock’ theme once again, buoyed by the trombones and ending with the support of muted trumpets.  After developing the tag for at least 14 years, hearing it with the springy, cushiony arrangement of horns and flutes is an amusing yet natural development.  In spite of the title, this is a mature, aged and polished “Audrey”, down to the brief statements in minor before moving to the parallel major key.

1975

“Balcony Rock”Brubeck_Desmond_1975

Recorded 10 June – 16 September, 1975

Personnel:

  • Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax
  • Dave Brubeck-  Piano

After more than twenty years of playing, this was the first time the two recorded as a duo, making history on their 1975 album ‘The Duets’.  Brubeck opens up with the same simple intro that he used on the record 20 years earlier, then Desmond joins in with the melody of “Balcony Rock”.  His tone has mellowed, his playing more deliberate, but it’s still the inimitable Paul Desmond.  He blows a few choruses before an edit in the tape throws the tune into the outro, Desmond playing his unique tag to close the track.

1976

“Balcony Rock”

Recorded 1976 at the Symphony Hall, Boston, MA

Personnel:

  • Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax
  • Dave Brubeck-  Piano

This is the last performance of “Balcony Rock” on tape and the last instance where Desmond uses his mysterious tag.  Recorded during the Brubeck Quartet’s 25th Anniversary Reunion Tour, Brubeck and Desmond continue their magic of playing as a duo.  This time, Brubeck gets a brief solo, playing some stride piano before signaling to Desmond to come back in.  Desmond immediately starts up on his haunting tag, and the performance is over.

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Other Performances?!

In edition to the versions above, there are three that I don’t have in my possession and haven’t made their way onto YouTube.  Two of these performances are on aging tapes in the Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington D.C.  The LOC contains numerous mouthwatering tapes of live jazz, including many tapes of the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  I had the opportunity to visit the Library this past summer and listen to some of these tapes, and two performances I listened to included the “Balcony Rock” tag.  Unfortunately, the only way one can hear these tapes is by making an in-person visit.  Hopefully these tapes will be made commercially available!  The third performance of “Audrey” comes from an unauthorized CD release of a live set from Paul Desmond’s Canadian Quartet.  That CD is available for purchase, but I don’t have it yet and haven’t heard it.  Included below, for the sake of completeness, are my notes on the two tracks stored in the LOC and a brief note about the Desmond Quartet edition.

1957

“Blues Improv”1957 Newport Jazz program

Recorded 6 July, 1957 at Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, RI

Personnel:

  • Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax
  • Dave Brubeck-  Piano
  • Norman Bates-  Bass
  • Joe Morello-  Drums

Recorded by the jazz radio show “The Voice of America”, this tape captures the Dave Brubeck Quartet live at the summer jazz bash on a warm Saturday night (the same day Paul McCartney met John Lennon).  The recording engineer didn’t even try and come up with a title for this blues, simply naming it “Blues Improv”.  Following a witty and humorous introduction by Master of Ceremonies Willis Connover, the group begins a jam on a blues in B-flat major.  The blues melody and format is similar to “Bru’s Blues”, a tune they had recently recorded that appeared on their ‘Jazz Goes To Junior College’.  Paul was in fantastic form that night, playing line after line of inspired, tasty line.  After ten choruses, he hands it over to Norman Bates, who takes a short solo.  Norman then gives the solo spot to Joe Morello, and although he’s using brushes, manages to build to a terrific fortisimo before dropping back down to a barely audible hiss.  Brubeck’s solo is surprisingly succinct, playing a few choruses before Paul is back with some fun counterpoint.  Desmond then begins his “Balcony Rock” tag and the song is over.  I’ll have to write a separate post about this performance, because Paul was on FIRE the entire night. 551888077

 

1959

“Lost Blues”

Recorded 4 April, 1959 in Portland, Oregon

Personnel:

  • Paul Desmond- Alto Sax
  • Dave Brubeck-  Piano
  • Eugene Wright-  Bass
  • Joe Morello-  Drums

Recorded in glorious and pristine stereo by famed West Coast recording engineer Wally Heider, these tapes reveal the Brubeck Quartet to be in excellent shape over a two-day engagement at the Multnomah Hotel in Portand, Oregon.  A bootleg album with some of these performances was released as “Live in Portland 1959”, a hodge-podge of tracks taken from the two nights at the hotel.  The recording quality is 10000 times worse, having been recorded off of a radio broadcast, which makes me wonder if the rest or more of performances are on tape somewhere apart from the LOC.  The recordings still capture some of the magic that was on display those two evenings.  Playing as much for themselves as for the relatively small audience, the group stretches out and plays some fantastic stuff.  On their second night of playing, they turn in one of their longest, if not THE longest playing time on a single tune, jamming on a blues for over 21 minutes!  Played in a major (D-major?) key, Dave opens up with a bluesy 8-bar intro that ushers Paul’s lithe sax into the proceedings. 25c926ccc393de059a41512ffe26e5e8

Paul quickly finds a serious groove and lays down some of the tastiest, bluesiest, and smoothest alto sax in his entire career (rivaling Newport 1957.  Imagine Paul’s solo on “The Song Is You” from ‘Jazz Goes To College’, but 8 minutes long).  He blows for 13 choruses before relinquishing to Dave, who although reaches fantastic heights throughout his own lengthy solo, doesn’t match the level of Paul’s solo.  Eugene gets a bass solo, then Paul sails back in for 4 bars of stimulating and crowd-pleasing counterpoint, floating into the familiar strains of the “Balcony Rock” tag.  The audience claps appreciatively as Dave, Eugene, and Paul exchange laughter and words.

These tapes show that Desmond used that tag on numerous blues performances, both on record and on performances never captured on tape or radio.  We will probably never know the origin or the significance of this plaintive phrase.  If any of the tapes in the LOC need to be released on CD/MP3/record/cassette tape, it’s the Multnomah recordings.  Recorded professionally and in illustrious, you-are-there stereo, they would make a fantastic commercial release.

1975

Recorded 25 October-1 November, 1975 in Toronto, Canada

Personnel:

  • Paul Desmond-  Alto Sax
  • Ed Bickert-  Guitar
  • Don Thompson-  Bass
  • Jerry Fuller-  Drums

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And that’s the story of “Audrey” and the famous “Balcony Rock” tag!  As of October 2017, the only known and available recordings of “Audrey” and it’s many mutations and moods total eleven.  The tag appears at least thirteen times on the known and available recordings, and twice on recordings in the Library of Congress.

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4 thoughts on “Audrey- A Musical Appreciation

  1. Great written reflections and an impressive compendium of the appearances of this beautiful, recurring Desmond theme. I thoroughly enjoyed this survey; thanks for sharing. There’s one other rendition that you’ve probably yet to hear (though hopefully will have the opportunity to, someday, if you make it back to the Library of Congress). The last blues improvisation in the recording of the April 4, 1959 show at the Multnomah Hotel in Portland, Oregon resolves at the end into what you refer to as the “Balcony Rock tag.” It’s a more uptempo treatment than most of the other recordings, but a wonderfully melodic conclusion to that improvisational excursion.

    Keep on listening (and writing)!

  2. Doh! Please strike the last three sentences of my comment! How did I miss the end of your review, where you highlighted the “Lost Blues”? I think I mistakenly thought that the review ended with the chronologically last 1976 entry, and initially missed the “Other Performances” section.

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