The Paul Desmond Turnaround

After a series of posts about jazz records, it’s high-time I get back to writing about the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s music and its star saxophonist Paul Desmond.  As a ‘welcome back’, an ordinary ‘Desmond’s Quotes’ wouldn’t do.  So, without further ado, let’s dive into a unique Desmondism that I’m still unsure about:  The Desmond Turnaround.

Regular readers of ‘Raggy Waltz’ know that Paul Desmond was an accomplished tunesmith and was able to weave bits of different songs and solos into his own solo.  He sometimes did this to send a message, either to Brubeck or the audience, as well as just for his own amusement.  The Desmond Turnaround falls under the former.  The Desmond Turnaround is the term I’ve given to a distinctive musical phrase that Desmond used in his solos that consisted of playing one note, the same note played an octave lower, followed by a walk up to the note three tones from the first, followed by that same note an octave lower.  Written out, it looks something like this (emphasis on ‘something’).Desmond Turnaround This little musical phrase was used by Desmond in numerous keys of numerous songs, and even in those songs it was used in various spots.  Some notes were added or subtracted as Desmond saw fit, but the basic phrase remained the same.  On its own, this Desmond turnaround is neat but not uncommon.  Many jazz musicians use musical phrases, or licks, in their solos, and some jazz licks have become rather well-known.  The intrigue surrounding this phrase stems from the fact that Desmond used this phrase to signal a message to Brubeck and the group.  What was that message?  That he wanted to do a chorus of stop-time, or in other words, a chorus where he solos by himself with the occasional accent from the rest of the group.

Paul Desmond had his most famous encounter with stop-time soloing comes from on a live outing of “Tangerine” from a 1958 European concert.  On “Tangerine”, the stop-time section was built into the arrangement, so Desmond doesn’t use the phrase in that song.  On nearly every other tune with Desmond doing stop-time with the Brubeck Quartet, however, he uses the phrase to signal when to do it.  It’s a cool example of Desmond musically communicating with Brubeck and the guys in the group.

The Desmond Turnaround first shows up in recordings from 1957 and isn’t heard again on recordings after 1959 (well, recordings that I have heard, of course), and happens on numerous songs both in the studio and in live settings.  Let’s explore the many instances where the Desmond Turnaround crops up.  To 1957 we go!

1957

RAD

The Tune:  “The Song Is You”

Recorded:  March 1957 at the Blue Note, Chicago, IL

Personnel:

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


On this live radio broadcast for Monitor from Chicago’s Blue Note jazz club, the Brubeck Quartet revisits “The Song Is You”, a tune that Desmond had found fertile ground in on ‘Jazz Goes To College’.  Unlike that initial performance, Desmond’s solo is much shorter for the radio broadcast, but filled with much of the same drive.  He uses the first chorus to state the melody, with embellishments, before launching full-throttle into his second chorus.  Towards the end of his second chorus, 1:59-mark, Desmond plays the turnaround, signaling to his band mates that he wants to take the next chorus on his own.  The band obliges, and Desmond begins the next chorus by himself, with musical punches from the group every other bar.  Perhaps due to the long and unusual song structure of “The Song Is You” or maybe because it was a radio broadcast and time was limited, Desmond’s spotlight doesn’t last the entire chorus.  The song is over soon after the group reenters.  This is the first time Desmond is captured on tape using the Desmond Turnaround.

FullSizeRender (10)

The Tune:  “One Song” 

Recorded:  8 August, 1957

Personnel:

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


In the summer of 1957, Dave Brubeck decided to record an album of Disney tunes, a brave and bold move for a jazz musician.  One of the songs they recorded was “One Song”, from ‘Snow White’.  I’ve never heard the song in the context of the movie, but the Brubeck Quartet takes it at a healthy clip and make it sound like a standard jazz tune, not a Disney tune from a princess cartoon.  Desmond really cooks on this, and blows five tasty chorus with, among other things, references to Stravinsky, before handing it over to Brubeck.  It’s toward the end of his third chorus that he fits his musical signal into the music, and a fast stop-time chorus featuring Desmond’s fleet musical mind ensues.  The musical signal happens at the 1:48-minute mark.

FullSizeRender (10)

The Tune:  “One Song”(alternate take)

Recorded:  8 August, 1957

Personnel:

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

Released by Sony over 50 years after it was recorded, this alternate take of “One Song” finds the group playing the song in a much lighter, breezier vein.  Desmond’s solo and tone is more delicate and airy here than on the master take, as is Brubeck’s solo and touch.  This and other differences make me think that this was an earlier take than the master take.  The tempo is slightly quicker, but Desmond again rattles off a tasty solo with even more Stravinsky references.  As on the master take, towards the end of his third chorus is when he plays his turnaround phrase, and a stop-time chorus follows.  Unlike the stop-time chorus on the master take, only Joe Morello marks the time; Brubeck and Bates sit it out. The phrase appears at the 1:53-minute mark.

For the sake of completeness, it should be noted that Desmond does some stop-time choruses on two alternate takes of “So This Is Love”, another Disney tune recorded during these recording sessions but never used on the album.  On those two tracks, Desmond doesn’t use his turnaround phrase at all.  They just flow right into the stop-time, and on one track there’s even a chorus of stop-time for Brubeck.  Interestingly, the stop-time idea was completely dropped for the take that made it onto the the CD release of ‘Dave Digs Disney’ as a bonus track.

1958

Free-Trade-Hall-1958

The Tune:  “Gone With The Wind”

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 track comes from a bootleg tape of the group making their first appearance overseas in February of 1958.  This is also the first commercially available recording of the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Eugene Wright on bass.  “Gone With The Wind” was a common opener for Brubeck in the days before “Take Five” rearranged Brubeck’s setlist.  Desmond finds a solid groove, digging in for an impressive seven choruses.  Such is the groove that he finds himself engaging in some playful interplay with Morello’s drums in the middle of his fifth chorus, all without losing the swing.  For a change of pace, it’s at the beginning of Desmond’s sixth chorus that he weaves his turnaround into his solo, playing the lick with the appropriate notes to match the key and the chord changes.  Brubeck and the guys follow Desmond’s direction and slip into a stop-time chorus that features Desmond’s sax.  After Desmond’s solo, Brubeck takes over for an equally fun and swinging solo, slipping in a few quotes from other tunes, including a particularly satisfying reference to “Give Me The Simple Life” that gets Desmond’s audible stamp of approval.  On this track, the Desmond Turnaround appears at the 3:59-minute mark.

Complete-1958-Berlin-Concert

The Tune:  “Take The ‘A’ Train”

Recorded:  22(?) February, 1958 in Berlin, Germany

Personnel: 

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

Further along in their European tour, this bootleg recording from Berlin contains some of the longest performance times in the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s discography.  This version of “Take The ‘A’ Train” clocks in at over 19 minutes!  In addition to this, this track has one of Desmond’s longest solos ever recorded, clocking in at a little over seven minutes with 11 (!) choruses of sax.  The solo itself finds Desmond seemingly searching for the right groove, but he just doesn’t want to stop playing.  It’s at the six-minute mark exactly that, while heading into his tenth chorus, Desmond decides he wants a stop-time chorus to have his time to shine.  Brubeck gives it to him, and Desmond proceeds to find the groove and pours some tasty sax out of his horn.  It’s interesting to hear Desmond use his turnaround on this song in the context of a minor song, making the necessary adjustments to the phrase mid-performance in order to make it work.

NDR

The Tune:  “Gone With The Wind”

Recorded:  28 February, 1958 in Hanover, Germany

Personnel:

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


Another reading of “Gone With The Wind”, from another concert in Germany.  By this point in the tour, Desmond was growing dissatisfied with his playing, and this concert bears the fruit of his dissatisfaction.  His playing lacks the drive and groove that was in full display on the Manchester performance earlier in the tour.  On this opener in Hanover, Desmond plays a six-chorus solo before bowing out.  This time, he slips his turnaround towards the end of the chorus as opposed to the beginning like he did before, amply showing how he again altered the musical phrase on the fly to fit the chords.  The Desmond Turnaround happens at the 3:07 mark, and is followed by a low-power chorus of stop-time.

NDR

The Tune:  “Out of Nowhere”

Recorded:  28 February, 1958 in Hanover, Germany

Personnel:

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


Recorded later in the concert, this tune was one of Desmond’s favorites.  Based on the circumstances that took place directly before this track (you can read about it here), I believe Brubeck called this tune to keep the peace and keep Desmond happy.  Desmond gets some nice choruses in before inserting the Desmond Turnaround in the most unexpected yet at the same time the most logical spot in the song, which happens to be in the middle of the chorus at the 2:19-minute mark.  Brubeck catches the signal and with a loud “yeah” gives his approval.  Desmond’s solo during the stop-time section flows and flows with ideas and Desmond comes out swinging harder than when he started.

newport58

The Tune:  “Perdido”

Recorded:  3 July 1958 in Newport, Rhode Island

Personnel:

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


For this summer appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival, the Brubeck group stretches out for some extended improvisation.  While Brubeck recorded a high-octane version of this song in 1953, this rendition of Juan Tizol’s jam-session favorite is more relaxed.  Desmond starts things off in a laid-back, easy-going vein.  He blows a few choruses before inserting the Desmond Turnaround into the end of his third chorus, signaling to Brubeck and company his willingness to do some stop-time soloing.  Desmond sails right on through the stop-time and comes back for another full chorus before finishing his solo and handing it over to Brubeck.

1959

davebrubeckportland

The Tune: “Someday My Prince Will Come”

Recorded:  4 April, 1959 in Portland, Oregon

Personnel: 

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


This live performance marks Desmond’s only publicly-available recorded instance where he uses the Desmond Turnaround in 3/4 waltz time.  “Someday My Prince Will Come” was a mainstay in Brubeck’s set list, first appearing on his 1957 ‘Dave Digs Disney’ album.  By the time of this 1959 gig at the legendary Multnomah Hotel in Portland, Oregon, the group was at home with the tune and its waltz rhythm.  The recording opens with Brubeck noodling around on the piano while the rest of the guys apparently lounge around onstage.  Brubeck briefly flirts with his tune “In Your Own Sweet Way” before seguing into “Someday My Prince Will Come”.  Whether it was the relaxed tempo or Morello’s unobtrusive brushwork, Desmond is inspired and turns in one of his tastiest, grooviest solos of all his “Someday…” performances.  Desmond must have been enjoying things, as he deftly uses the Desmond Turnaround in his second chorus.  So in the groove was Desmond that he does something that up until this point he hadn’t done (on record, anyhow):  After his stop-time chorus, he continues soloing instead of ending his solo a chorus later like usual.  Towards the end of his solo, he gets downright bluesy, finding a groove that he returns to and explores from numerous angles before handing it over to Brubeck.  The paltry but polite applause Desmond gets is almost insulting.  This performance marks the last time Desmond used the turnaround signal on a publicly-available recording.  In fact, with the exception of later versions of “Tangerine”, Desmond wasn’t captured on tape doing stop-time features again.

Multnomah

The Tune:  “Gone With The Wind”

Recorded:  3-4 April, 1959 in Portland, Oregon

Personnel:

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

These two performances of “Gone With The Wind” stem from the same gigs that produced the music on the bootleg album ‘Dave Brubeck Live in Portland 1959’.  Unfortunately, the tapes of this gig haven’t been publicly released and are only available for listening at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.  More info on these tapes can be found here.  In the days before “Take Five”, Brubeck frequently opened his performances with “Gone With The Wind”, and he does so here on both nights.  On both, both Brubeck and Desmond were in phenomenal form, particularly on the first night.  Desmond uses the Desmond Turnaround on both versions of the tune, and both times he has an ensuing chorus of stop-time to showcase his sax style. On both tunes, he continues to solo long after the stop-time chorus, making a strong argument that Desmond was really in the mood during the quartet’s gig at this Oregon hotel.

And so concludes this look into one of Paul Desmond’s many musical tricks.  Is it an actual song that he’s using as a signal, or is it just one of those jazz licks that has been used by numerous musicians?  I’ve heard this musical phrase (or one similar to it) used by Sonny Stitt and Lee Morgan in recordings from the mid-1950’s, around the same time it first showed up in recordings of Paul Desmond.  Unless one you readers can recognize it and identify it, this will remain a mystery!

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