Paul Desmond, a master mind and wit: some thoughts for a New Year

A poet of the music, Paul Desmond was both self-deprecating and deeply insightful. This medley of quotes might tickle and provoke us…
“I tried practicing for a few weeks and ended up playing too fast… I have won several prizes as the world’s slowest alto player, as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness”.
Regarding his tone:“I honestly don’t know! It has something to do with the fact that I play illegally.”
On why he changed his name: “Breitenfeld sounded too Irish.”

More seriously, Paul Desmond challenges students and teachers of the music: “Complexity can be a trap. You can have a ball developing a phrase, inverting it, playing it in different keys and times and all. But it’s really more introspective than communicative. Like a crossword puzzle compared to a poem.”
And most telling… “Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.”
Sadly his perception about the jazz audience appears to remain pretty much spot on…”Our basic audience begins with creaking elderly types of twenty-three and above.”

For more Paul Desmond, click here:

For a transcription of Paul Desmond’s solo on “Samba with some Bar-B-Q” click here


Published by Simon Purcell

Jazz musician and educator, the 4Ps

2 thoughts on “Paul Desmond, a master mind and wit: some thoughts for a New Year

  1. Re Desmond and practice: I was once on a gig with Bill Eyden and he told me he’d toured opposite the Brubeck band in the 60s. When I asked him if he’d got to know Desmond, he said he hadn’t because P.D. used to sit alone, silently fingering his horn on the bus – playing ‘dumb’.
    I’m doing a bit of informal research at the moment and it seems our brains aren’t very good at distinguishing between reality and imagination. So it would appear you don’t have to make a noise to practise.

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