Introducing ‘Desmond’s Notes’: Transcriptions & Analysis of A Genius

Starting and maintaining a blog can be a rewarding, enriching, frustrating, and fulfilling experience.  Running this blog, I have experienced all of the above and then some.  One of the absolute best results of starting this blog has been meeting and corresponding with readers from all over the world, some as close as the American capital of Washington D.C. to as far away as Belgium.  One such reader happens to be a big Paul Desmond fan and after several friendly emails, has graciously offered to do what I can’t:  write out transcriptions of Paul Desmond’s solos and provide a learned musical explanation of what’s actually going on.  In his maiden piece, Lodge thoroughly analyzes Desmond’s solo and includes transcriptions to illustrate. With that, it’s with pleasure that I yield the floor to Raggy Waltz’s newest member to the payroll.  All the way from the United Kingdom, I’d like to introduce Dominic Lodge!  Take it away, Dom!

Much can be said about Paul Desmond’s solo on ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ from the ‘Dave Digs Disney’ album. Please listen to this again before reading this write up! It was my favourite of his solos for a while (the alternate take also became a firm favourite), but then on Youtube I discovered his Newport Jazz Festival solo over the same tune, and after transcribing the solo and listening to it many times over I noticed that Paul was up to something.

Notes: The chord structure for ‘Someday My Prince’ is ABAC,  but for simplicity I will use numbers to better show a specific place within the full solo – a timeline of sorts. So 0 is the start of the solo. 0.5 is sixteen bars into the solo. 1.0 is the next full chorus and so on.  Paul’s solo is five choruses long, but each half-chorus has a self contained chord structure that leads back to chord one, so there are 10 distinct sections.

PD Solo No.1 Transcription

I have used double bar lines at the end of each full chorus and kept eight bars to a line to help with this analysis. Also note that I was unable to add bends up to notes on noteflight, which actually turned out to be for the best as they would have cluttered the page.

In other solos over this tune, Paul often creates an idea to play around with and moves onto the next idea at key points of the song form (bar numbers that are multiples of 8 or 16) , which creates a very satisfying and logical solo whilst still flowing along. It also really propels you into the next round of the song when he plays a pick up into the next chorus and ‘ups the ante’ as the solo gains momentum. However, on this solo at Newport, he refrains from doing this.

It isn’t until 3.5 (out of 5) that Paul starts an A section with a new idea. Paul’s soloing feels more disjunct and angular than that on the DDD album – some of this may come from the ‘live’ recording conditions/quality, faster tempo and of course different accompanying personel. It also feels a bit more raw and unpolished once he really gets into it. But Paul; quite obviously and artificially in some cases; pieces together ideas over the separate choruses to give a flowing feel. He glues over the stitches between the structural changes in song form to make the transitions as smooth as possible, creating a sense of free flow, despite the comparatively angular solo in his jumping around the different registers of the saxophone. Here I’ll explain:

We’re continuing the melody from Brubeck right from the get go, holding onto the A (for sax) before stepping down to a more appropriate register to begin with, in order to leave room to go somewhere later on. Now we’re ready to explore approaches to this lower-octave A. This beautiful yet simple chromatic idea beginning on bar 8 stays around for 21 bars. It’s reinvented just when you think the idea has passed – at 0.5 it’s prolonged, albeit in a different register. Paul sticks with this idea for long enough for Alan Dawson to also enjoy the saxophonist’s insistence and inventiveness. And then as if to surprise us again, Paul moves to a new idea four bars before the end of the chorus instead of sticking it out with the original phrase, suddenly going off on another tangent which continues over 1.0. Notice how he plays the pattern for 5 bars after starting the new chorus at 1.0 – just one of the instances where he doesn’t conform to playing regular and even phrase lengths.

Skip to 1.5 and we’re in the middle of another idea, this one only 2 bars long but repeated, again gluing the structure together. At bar 56 we hear Paul’s trademark blues scale run-down that gives a taster of things to come…

Next, we segue to a four bar phrase, which is then artificially repeated on the other side of 2.0 – it’s transposed to a different starting note, keeping the exact same rhythm and intervals. The audacity of this atonal ‘response’ even gets a chuckle from Brubeck.

Soon after, the incredible chromatic counterpoint invention beginning at bar 75 (possibly the highlight of the solo in terms of Paul’s technical ability and ear) spans 14 bars, again ignoring the structural separation of the half-chorus at 2.5. I like to think of this way: There are three groups of three short phrases, starting at bar 75, stepping down one after the other. Then the last phrase keeps going down as a new phrase starts further up, following it down the stairs.

The same pattern is carried on at bar 89 but now with pauses for thought, all the way to 3.0. It feels like Paul’s intentionally hitting his point home, with yet another cheeky extension of the previous phrase, to carry the idea on over the bar. This one is a sort of ‘unresolved resolution’ (half landing on the tonic but starting the new chorus where he left off).

Then the long winding barrage of quavers culminating in chromatically stepped whole tones (he must have spent time practicing those fingerings) interestingly doesn’t stop on bar 105, but also bridges the gap between the 8 bar sections – with another bar added to get to the tonic without rushing – he’s yet again letting an idea run through to its end without letting the song form dictate where that end should be.

Having said that, he then takes the song by the scruff of the neck to give it some oomph. The nice idea beginning with the pick up into bar 107 does not last long, and he feels it’s time to move:

Finally at 3.5 Paul starts an A section with a fresh idea, highlighting the new chorus instead of disregarding the double bar line or manufacturing a transposed response. And by leaving space here instead, he allows the band to lock into their groove and take it up a notch into the next gear, or rather prepare and ‘accelerate’ in order to get into top gear at 4.0, where Paul really lets fly. We’re zooming down the highway now and there’s nothing stopping us, not even the half-chorus bar line at 4.5. Soon after, he puts on the brakes, showing that rawness I mentioned earlier, at bar 154 – he is a man possessed. And by the way he’s forcing air through the saxophone, it is as if he cannot produce the sound that he can hear in his head – he has transcended the saxophone. He has given it all and his engine needs to cool, as he cruises onto the slip road (off-ramp), leaving Dave to begin his own journey at a gentler pace in the slow lane. Not that he will stay there quite as patiently as Paul…

If you are still interested in delving further after finishing reading, listening along and reading (transcription) along all at the same time, there is a bonus ‘advanced’ highlights page! (I got very carried away by this point). I have colour coded most phrases and picked apart the patterns Paul plays – this allowed me to spot similarities in different sections of the solo and even find some underlying structural harmonies and rhythms that Paul subconciously plays which are closely connected despite perhaps seeming incongruent upon first listening.

PD Solo No.2 Basic Highlights

PD Solo No.3 Advanced Highlights

I had a limited number of colours available and so colours may repeat despite not being phrases that are linked – I have done my best to keep similar colours apart, especially on each individual page.

Colour code:

Red is the blues scale/offbeat thing or a combination of both.

Light blue is usually chromaticism.

Dark blue towards the end shows the quaver (8th note) repetition and evolution.

Other colours show things worth noting – have a look around on the same page to see if same-coloured ideas are linked in some way.

Colours are sometimes contrasting in order to highlight changes in register, to show ideas evolving or diminishing, and to mimic the ‘call and response’ that Paul so often plays.

 

The more you look into it the more you will find connections all over – it was frustrating not being able to highlight phrases multiple times with different colours as this would have made it confusing. I thought I would keep things simple for now…

– Dominic Lodge

One thought on “Introducing ‘Desmond’s Notes’: Transcriptions & Analysis of A Genius

  1. Wow ! Such a fascinating post that I think I’m going to take Music Theory 101 just to be able to read it before I ever listen again to Desmond !

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