Yesterday, November 25 2019, would have marked Paul Desmond’s 95th birthday. Unfortunately, his penchant for smoking cigarettes cut his life short in 1977 at the age of 52. Here at Raggy Waltz, everyday is Desmond Day, so I struggled to come up with something special for his birthday this year. I didn’t want to merely post a song or performance that I liked, but do something that aptly displayed Desmond’s essence. So here’s not one video but two videos of Paul with the Dave Brubeck Quartet turning in two very different but very Desmondy performances on Duke Ellington’s “Take The ‘A’ Train”. The first one is from a 1959 appearance at the University of Rome and the second from a German TV show in 1966. The personnel is the same, with Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums.
The 1959 performance contains an example of Desmond choosing to solo in the minor key, something he did frequently on this particular track. His solo is tasty, but watch for a lengthy quote of “Bernie’s Tune” towards the end of his solo.
Performing the tune again in 1966, for whatever reason Desmond decides to stick to the major key when he solos, a rare instance. He quickly finds a groove, causing Brubeck to sit back from the piano and just listen. See if you can catch the quotes in Desmond’s solo. Brubeck’s ensuing solo is fantastic, ranging from a Thelonious Monkish beginning to a more orchestral but swinging finish. The series of fours he does with Morello’s drums is fun, and listen for Desmond’s ending, completely different from the one he does on the 1959 performance.
Together, these performances show how fresh and inventive Desmond’s mind was when it came to jazz. He never played a tune the same way twice, and he always kept it logical yet fun. Happy birthday, Desmond.