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01 January 1991

Dave Brubeck remembers Paul Desmond

Dave Brubeck Remembers Paul Desmond

The following is taken from a film interview recorded at the Montreal Jazz Festival, June 28, 1991 by Producer/Interviewer: Paul Caulfield for Mirus Communications Inc. and included in the excellent website developed by Paul Caulfield on Paul Desmond

PC: DESMOND DESCRIBED YOU AT YOUR FIRST MEETING AS "WILD HAIRED, FEROCIOUS LOOKING WITH A PILE-DRIVER APPROACH TO THE PIANO". WHAT WAS DESMOND LIKE THAT DAY? WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF HIM?

DB: Well I was in the army and I was going overseas in World War 2, so this must have been early '44. And I had to audition for this army band. It was my last chance I thought to avoid the infantry, which I was now in and get in ... back into a band. So I went to the Presidio area of San Francisco, right over the Golden Gate Bridge. There was a fort there and my old friend Dave Van Kriedt who had always talked about Paul Desmond was in the band and Dave said "Try and audition for the band I'm in and maybe we can get you out of the infantry." So they got together some people for me to play with and Paul Desmond was with Dave Van Kriedt that day and a drummer and a bass player. So I remember starting to play and asked what to play and they just said "Play some blues." And Paul later on wrote that he'd never heard anything quite like it because I was playing in two keys at once. This key was probably in G in this hand and B flat in the other hand, which was a device I was using a lot, I think before anybody in jazz. And it kind of shocked Paul and it wasn't smart of me to audition for the band playing at my wildest, which was very wild in those days and I didn't get into the band and I did go overseas in the infantry.

PC: DID YOU HAVE ANY INKLING THAT FIRST DAY THAT YOU WANTED TO WORK WITH HIM OR THAT YOU WOULD WORK WITH HIM FURTHER?

DB: Well I wouldn't say that I thought a lifetime relationship was forming that day. I was really concerned whether I was going to make it into the band. And when you're about to go overseas in the infantry I think you're pretty much concentrating on the immediate day and I was later impressed with Paul after the War but I certainly remembered him from that day.

PC: TELL ME A BIT ABOUT THE LATE FORTIES AND PLAYING WITH HIM IN THE OCTET.

DB: Yes the Octet was actually 1947 and by that time a group of us had gathered to study with the great French composer Darius Milhaud. Like so many of the great intellects of Europe they ... especially if they were Jewish they had to leave or lose their lives under Hitler. So Milhaud had come to San Francisco. And he was really the first great composer that loved jazz and used jazz. I think before Gershwin and before Stravinsky, maybe Krenick and the other composers. So we gravitated to Darius Milhaud. Now my brother and Pete Rugolo, Pete was later Stan Kenton's arranger, and Pete was kind of the person that most of the San Francisco musicians looked up to because he was far ahead of us. They were Milhaud's first two graduate students and then my brother became Darius Milhaud's assistant. Now you got to remember this is a girls' school, it still is a girls' school. But Milhaud encouraged having graduate students and they could be male. So he changed the policy of this school and then he wanted the GIs to be able to come and study there after the War and of course my brother helped us to get in to that school. Now there were five of us in my Octet that were Milhaud composition students. Paul was not but he was going to San Francisco State and Cal Tjader was going to San Francisco State and they came over and joined up with the octet which was basically Milhaud's students. And that's where we all got together, really out of Darius milhaud's class.

PC: WORKING AS THE DAVE BRUBECK TRIO IN '49-'50, HOW DID YOU COME ABOUT BRINGING PAUL DESMOND INTO IT AND FORMING THE QUARTET?

DB: When eh, there's a lot of things that transpired before that. Paul used to come and sit in with a group I was in called the Three Ds, Dave, Darryl and Don. That was 1946 or 7, right after the war. And when the Octet formed, naturally Paul was in that group. And then we couldn't work so I took the ... Ah the way that happened was Paul got a job where he asked me to play in his group. What he had really done was taken the Three Ds and hired the bass player, the singer and at this point would have broken up that group and I was a possibility for him on piano. So I left a $100 a week job to play with Paul for $42 for three nights a week and Paul then took a job in the mountains at a place called Feather River and took a different piano player. So I told the club owner, I would like to come in here with a new group, 'cause he asked me if I would stay with Bill Smith, my present clarinetist to play in place of Paul. Paul said I couldn't do it, no way. So I was without a job, at this point I had two children and I was very angry with one person called Paul Desmond. And I told my wife, I never want to see him again, because at this point we were penniless and no job.

So I remember that we recorded with the Trio and Paul was on the road with the guitarist Alvino Ray, and heard the Trio recording in New York, and came immediately back to San Francisco and came to my house. My wife Iola went to the door, and Iola always liked Paul and thought we belonged together and she let him in. And I was out in the back, hanging up diapers on a clothesline and I turned around and there was Paul Desmond. My first inclination was to throttle him, and then the good things about Paul came back and he said how much he wanted to be with the Quartet and he'd babysit, he'd wash the car, he'd run errands, he'd do anything I asked him to do if he could only be in the group. And I melted and could see myself forgiving him for what he'd put my family through, because we had been a long time without work. And so I went to Honolulu with the Trio ... Am I getting this right? [DB is asking his wife Iola who was in the room.]

At this point Paul would come and play on every job I had. I was being hired as a Trio. The Trio had become the number one, in Downbeat and Metronome, New Group, and we had a lot of recordings out. And when Paul would come and sit in, the public didn't like it at all and the club owners would say, "Please don't let him sit in. People don't want to hear anything but the recordings. They've paid to come and hear the recordings." So there was no way I could keep Paul away.

But we went to Honolulu and Paul wanted to come to Honolulu, free, pay his own way, not get any salary. The first week or so that I was in Honolulu, I was involved in an accident which I thought was going to paralyse me and I had to go to the hospital. Flat on my back from the hospital bed I wrote to Paul Desmond. I remember writing the letter like this because I was in traction. And I said Paul, maybe we should start the Quartet, and I said hire two musicians, a bass player and a drummer, and I named the two guys in San Francisco that I didn't want. Those were the two guys Paul had to hire, no one else wanted to work for this unknown group. So from the point where the club owners didn't want to hear Paul Desmond, all of a sudden after we recorded, everybody thought this was a great new sound.

But you have to realize that most of the popular groups did not have a horn. The King Cole Trio or the George Shearing Quintet, didn't have a horn. Billy Kyle Trio, Teddy Wilson, on and on. The usual club job was for bass, drums and piano so to add a horn did make it different. Some of the bebop groups naturally if it was Charlie Parker, you had a horn. But most groups did not have trumpet or saxophone or any of the other instruments. But Paul added a quality that seemed right at the time, maybe six months before it wouldn't have worked. But his sound was I think the purest sound I'd ever heard on saxophone to this day. There's been many musicians tried to copy Paul's sound, and some have come very close. I naturally know the guys that have a sound close to his. I never wanted to duplicate the sound again in the Quartet. Leave it where Paul left it. But to me his lyricism has never been equalled, as far as logic and lyricism combined, because there's always a strand going back some place in his melodies in his choruses that shows a great intellect combined with a great emotionalism and usually you don't find the two things in one person.

PC: WHAT MADE HIS SOUND SO DIFFERENT AT THE TIME?

DB: Well you know none of us are exactly without influence. I can hear early Konitz and hear Paul sometimes, but Pete Brown was Paul's big influence and I don't know Pete Brown's work that well ... to know what was there. But Paul always mentioned Pete Brown.

PC: THE CRITICS HAVE OFTEN TALKED ABOUT LESTER YOUNG AS AN OBVIOUS INFLUENCE ON DESMOND, DO YOU KNOW IF THAT WAS TRUE?

DB: It might have been, but I didn't hear him talk about Lester Young. I know he liked him, but eh if he mentioned anybody, it was always Pete Brown.BR> PC: WHAT WAS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE KIND OF WEST COAST "COOL" SOUND AS IT WAS CALLED AT THE TIME AND WHAT WAS GOING ON IN NEW YORK IN THE EARLY FIFTIES ... THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE WEST COAST AND THE BEBOP?

DB: It's a myth, because I will tell you some recordings to listen to: "Look For The Silver Lining" being one and "This Can't Be Love", where there's not a drop of cool air. It's all hot, straight-ahead swing, creative.... Paul was the first guy I heard who played an octave above the range of the saxophone. Every time he went to a teacher to learn more about playing the alto, he lost the things that made him so different. And I would say, "Paul, don't go to another teacher." He had a list of the teachers in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles that he thought would help him, and they gradually made him lose all his high register. He could always go up there beautifully on the horn, but when he was a kid he'd play an octave above. Now everybody's doing that. You wouldn't think of Paul as being the first screecher, because you always associate him with this beautiful sound. Just like Paul remembers me as a wild man, I remember him as doing many wild screeching things, above the horn which he gradually lost.

PC: CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR WORKING RELATIONSHIP ONSTAGE IN TERMS OF THE MUSIC, COUNTERPOINT AND HOW YOU WORKED THAT OUT?

DB: It was to the point where we almost though as one. At the end of Paul's life, he said that he used to try and trick me, and play the worst possible note in a chord and see if I could resolve it. And I didn't know he was doing that. I thought, "Wow he's playing a very wild note in this chord, I'd better get on it." And one night ... the beginning of every tune is the same, or supposed to be the same, and then you're free, and you're supposed to have an ending. One night, a tune we had played for years, we both made the same mistake in the arrangement, and just looked at each other and broke up, because ... there's no way I can explain that. But Paul often said we had some kind of ESP and I think when we were both concentrating fully, and we listened to each other all the time, constantly. In fact I think that's one of the things in all my groups, you'll hear everybody listening to everybody else. And there's no time that I was playing a solo that I didn't think Paul was listening and he might be standing there with his head down... You know he had the nickname of "The Stork", because he'd stand on one leg and lean on the piano. That was his nickname amongst a lot of musicians and a lot of fans. With his head kind of down and the crook of the horn, kind of suggesting a stork in repose. And he was ... I knew he was listening to every note I played all night and I was listening to every note of his, and often time you'll work with musicians that are so totally involved with themselves, that as soon as they're finished, they turn off. They're not listening to the other soloists. Their eyes are wandering around the room, or their attention. With Paul and I and I can say to this day with Bill Smith and Jack Six and Randy Jones, we're listening. My groups have always been a group that's paying absolute attention to each other. And I felt that Paul absolutely was following the structure of everything that I did as I was behind him following everything he was doing. And when it was different he'd usually say, "Yah". Or I'd say, "Yah" to Paul. You often hear that on the recordings.

PC: WHEN IT REALLY WORKED.

DB: Yeah.

PC: CAN YOU TALK A BIT ABOUT HOW SUCCESSFUL THE QUARTET WAS?

DB: Well there was a period where I think that we were actually dominating the small combo field more than anyone else in the world, and there's plenty of things to prove that, all the polls we were winning. But more that our sound was being copied all over Europe, South America. You could hear bass, drums, piano and usually alto saxophone, all of a sudden sounding very very much like our group. And for instance in the "Melody Maker" they would pick the ten top jazz selections for the week, and at one time we had six of the top ten. We had such a following in England that we would play the Odeon circuit which usually sat 3500 to 4000 people, two shows a day. Friday, Saturday & Sunday: three times. That would be twelve concerts in one tour and then go out to the outlying cities during the week. People lined up like it was the Beatles inside, later on it was the Beatles. You know the Beatles liked us. We were influencing popular music at the time. I was so surprised when I read that we were the Beatles favourite American group. It was in an interview that I think they did in New Orleans. And right across the board; we were influencing popular music. The way that we used counterpoint you could hear in other groups. I heard it in so many American groups, where they started to play in the various styles that we used. Paul said to me once, "Dave you'll start a style and then you'll leave it. In the next recording you won't go near it again, and some other group will come along and make their career out of something we just touched on.

If you start thinking about the time signature experiment, the counterpoint experiment or the first duet kind of albums between Paul and I, later on a lot of people did duets. Our first duet was supposed to be a quartet session but the bass player was ill and the drummer was so ill you can't hear him. So it's really Paul and I. And that remained to the end of his life, his favourite album that we did together. So years later, I think about 1975, Paul said let's do another duet album. He said, "That's when I always like us the most together, when it's just you and I". So it wasn't my session, the duet album is Paul's session. And we made a whole album in three hours, went back the next day, cut some more sides which we never used. And Paul used to say we can make an album for the cost of a hamburger and a street car token.

PC: YOU TOUCHED A BIT ON THE TIME SIGNATURE THING. TELL ME ABOUT "TAKE FIVE" AND THE PHENOMENAL SUCCESS OF IT AND WHAT IT MEANT?

DB: "Take Five" really went back to an idea I had in the early 40s. If you listen to the Octet we were doing things that Bill Smith wrote. There's some 7/4 in there. Bill had written some very experimental things that weren't recorded, because they were too far out to make any record company think that it could possibly sell. So we were into that long, long ago.

One of the first times Charlie Mingus heard me he said, "There isn't a pianist in New York City who could do what you just did." I said, "What did I just do Charlie?" He said, "Well you were playing 5 in the left hand and 7 in the right." Well I wouldn't even know what I was doing. Charlie had this genius mind of analysis. But when I finally... You know in the Trio there were things in 6/4, which I don't think had been used. "Singing in the Rain", 6, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. That would have been in '49. I used 5/4 in '46 in a two piano piece. So I wanted to do a whole album of things that weren't in the typical 4/4 of jazz. And I had to wait because I lost Cal Tjader as a drummer. Cal had a time sense that he could pick up on things that weren't in 4/4 quite easily. Then I got Joe Morello and when I heard Joe, I knew I had the drummer that I could do some of these ideas that had been germinating, at this point for well over ten years.

So I said, "I want to do an album that will really try to get away from 4/4. I will expect you Paul and Joe Morello to write this thing that you're warming up every night before the concert. Joe's playing in 5 and you're trying to play against him. I'll probably write the rest of the material but you guys already have a start in 5/4." And Joe had this beat, "Umchucka chuck bom bom umchucka chuck bom," that he'd play and Paul'd play against. So at the rehearsal, they didn't have a tune. And I said, "Well you know, I've written everything else." I'd written "Blue Rondo", "Kathy's Waltz" and everything. "We've got to have this thing in 5. I know you can do it." So it was really born, "Take Five" was born in my front room. Paul had two themes, but he said he couldn't write a tune. And I said, "Look put these two themes together. Make an AABA form and you're going to have a tune." So Paul sat down at the piano and he said, "Do you mean like this." And I said, "Exactly". And so it was really Joe's beat, Paul's melody, my being able to put together that formed that tune. We gave the credit to Paul because he'd written the melody lines, and in my quartet I often gave credit to somebody who didn't do anything except play on the tune. Many tunes that I'd written Paul improvised on and I'd put "Brubeck-Desmond". This one I just put "Desmond" on it, because I think he deserved... the idea, the melodic idea which is probably the most important part of that tune. But it was a beautiful piece that none of us knew was going to revolutionize jazz that much. And it's still according to the last jazz polls on radio stations in Connecticut that cover three states, it was three times ahead of the next most popular tune and they say world-wide it's the most popular jazz tune.

PC: SO YOU GUYS HAD NO IDEA IT WAS GOING TO BE THAT POPULAR WHEN IT WAS RELEASED?

DB: I just read a recent interview by Joe Morello saying he had no idea this little idea of his.... You know Joe says the beat was his. He said he had no idea that he had come up with an idea that was going to be this important. And I don't think you do at the time. The idea was to do an experimental album to break the 4/4 tradition on a set album. Where, let's go in a new direction. And none of us knew. I didn't know "Blue Rondo A Al Turk" was going to be big or "Kathy's Waltz". The next album "Unsquare Dance", so many ... "It's A Raggy Waltz". So many of those things are being played worldwide, and it was supposed to be an experiment.

PC: SO WHAT WAS PAUL LIKE OFFSTAGE, WHAT WAS HIS PERSONALITY LIKE?

DB: We went through different periods, like most long friendships. There were some periods where it was like a divorce. Where I didn't want to see him any more. He didn't want to be with me. Then there were periods... What I want to say is we never went through a period very long when we weren't playing well together. Some nights I used to edge Paul along to make him play more viciously, because he really loved ballads, and beauty, and the wonderful line he could get in a slow tune.

PC: DESMOND SAID IN THE MID 60S THAT THE QUARTET WOULD BREAK UP WHEN YOU WANTED TO SPEND MORE TIME COMPOSING THAN TOURING. IS THAT WHAT HAPPENED AND COULD YOU TALK A BIT ABOUT 1967 AND WHY THE QUARTET STOPPED?

DB: That's basically the reason. I wanted to stay home more with my family and it was kind of chaotic times coming up when you had six children and five of them teenagers and the conflicts that were going on in the world at that time and sons that eventually had to make up their mind whether they're going to be drafted or enlist or go off to war. So it was a good time for me to come back and be around the house a lot more. But you know Paul and I continued to play together. And when I had the group with Jack Six, Alan Dawson and Gerry Mulligan, Paul often played with that group. And then later I had the group with my sons, Paul often played with that group. Paul's last concert was at Lincoln Center and he knew that he was seriously ill, so he came off the road. And he said, "I want to go back to New York and get enough blood transfusions so I can play the last night of the tour in New York." Paul never said it would be the end. But we knew he was getting weaker and weaker. So he just played the second half. And when it came time for the encore, because the whole audience wanted Paul back onstage he said the old cliche "Leave em wanting more." And we didn't go back on. But he was so weak, his physician said the average person couldn't have gotten out of bed and he came down here and played.

PC: WAS THAT THE LAST TIME YOU SAW HIM?

DB: No because then he really started staying in his apartment, with only slight ventures out to eat or do something near the apartment. And in that period, my son Danny who plays drums and Paul saw a lot of each other and Danny was going to be on Paul's next album. Because next to Connie Kay, he loved Danny's playing. There was always a wonderful kind of resolution between Joe Morello's approach to playing with Paul where Joe wouldn't just keep time. Like Paul liked a drummer that didn't ever interrupt an idea. A Connie Kay was perfect for Paul and Danny wanted to behave and do what Paul wanted but Joe wanted to kick Paul and make him go. There was this wonderful conflict that I though Paul needed at times in order to get him into the wonderful rhythmic playing he could play would only come from a drummer driving him. And examples of this are wonderful where at the Carnegie Hall Concert, "Pennies From Heaven" is one of the best things I ever heard Paul play. And before that was... Lloyd Davis on drums was the old 1954 "Jazz at Oberlin". I would say is one of the greatest solos in jazz that Paul played on "All The Things You Are". In fact that whole night Paul was so inventive and at very up tempos. Invention, after invention, after invention. And this is what people want to remember about Paul is that he didn't woodshed like so many guys. He hardly ever picked up his horn, if we had two weeks off, I don't think he'd put the horn in his mouth and his invention was coming from his mind not his fingers. And so many guys have all these fast wonderful things worked out, but you defeat yourself. And the strength of Paul, that I want everyone to remember, is this inventive, logical, lyrical, wonderful compositional technique that was in his solos. Absolutely fresh, night after night.

PC: WHAT DO YOU THINK ... YOU PLAYED WITH HIM FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS, WHAT DO YOU THINK IT WAS ... HOW COME YOU COULD PLAY SO WELL TOGETHER? WHAT WAS THE GLUE THAT HELD YOU TOGETHER?

DB: What you hear over and over again is that jazz is usually geographical. You have the New Orleans style, Chicago style, Kansas City style. When they said "West Coast Style" I never agreed with it. It was San Francisco. One city on the west coast where we all grew up with the same influences. That's why Bill Smith is wonderful for me to play with, because Paul and Bill and I grew up together. So it's your background, in the city you're in, your influences, who played in that city before you, who influenced all of you. It can be one guy from a city that will change that whole city because he has a creative mind and imagination and it just kind of drifts into all the musicians. It can be a... even say Pierre Monteur could influence the whole city of San Francisco in a classical way or it could be Kid Ory or someone else who just pointed all of us together that were searching at the same time. And that's what I think made Paul and I and Cal Tjader, Dick Collins, Bill Smith, all of us think together was geographical. Early influences being the same.

PC: CAN YOU TALK A BIT ABOUT TENSIONS? THERE'S REFERENCES ON LINER NOTES TO CERTAIN CONCERTS WHERE PEOPLE HAD FIGHTS BACKSTAGE AND THEY GET ON AND THE ADRENALIN IS FLOWING AND WHAT THAT DID TO THE CONCERT?

DB: Well there's two ways that you can play that will make you play. One is anger and Paul could get very angry if somebody interrupted his idea. We used to call it "drop a bomb from the bass drum", in the middle of his idea. Then Paul would play something. If I did something he didn't like, he'd usually play "Don't Fence Me In". And it would go, "Give me land, give me land, du, du, du, du, du, du, Don't fence me in." In the middle of a solo. Or, "You, you're driving me crazy," would be a clue. I remember there's one recording out where Paul got mad at the drummer and I said to the drummer, "Pay him no mind." You can hear it right on the LP and I played the rest of that solo and it's the first recording when it went beyond 3 minutes where it was one side. I think it was called "At A Perfume Counter". I just played 'til the end of the concert 'cause I didn't want Paul and the drummer fighting. So I just played the rest of the tape. But conflict is so important but the strongest thing in anything in the world is love. And so when you get into the love environment onstage, that's where the real beauty is and anger's important but love is stronger.

PC: DO YOU MISS HIM?

DB: Oh sure, we all miss him. I've never seen my family react so strongly at the loss of somebody as Paul and Paul left his alto to my son Michael. Michael woke up in the morning and said, "Did Paul call yesterday and leave his alto to me?" And I said, "No he didn't." And he said, "Are you sure Dad?" And I said, "I'm sure. I'll call Paul." I called Paul and I said, "Did you leave your alto to Mike." And he said, "Yes I did, in my will." I said, "Did you call him." He said, "No". So that kind of closeness was certainly there between Darius and Paul, the two intellectuals...

(c) Copyright 1991, Mirus Communications Inc.