Sunday, January 15, 2006
Paul Desmond and Audrey Hepburn
Though bookish and somewhat nebbish-like in appearance Desmond was a great lover of women and they in return flocked to him in droves. His famous quote - "Sometimes I get the feeling that there are orgies going on all over New York City, and somebody says, `Let's call Desmond,' and somebody else says, 'Why bother? He's probably home reading the Encyclopedia Britannica."
In the thorough and absorbing bio "Take Five: the Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond" by Doug Ramsey there is a great story related by some of Desmond's friends about his unrequited passion for Audrey Hepburn.
While he was in New York, Paul would steal away from the club where he played just to catch a glimpse of Audrey coming out the stage door of the theatre where she performed. He'd stand across the street smoking his cigarette, but could never bring himself to approach her. He did go home and write an instrumental called "Audrey". It has a lovely late hours-minor sounding melody that gives way to a light-hearted ce'st la vie major blues in the conclusion.
Desmond and Audrey never met.
Desmond died in 1977 at 52 of lung cancer "In a business where booze and drugs abound, his drinking was legendary, but it was three packs a day that caught up with him in May of that year. Much to his own amusement his liver was fine, "Pristine, one of the great livers of our time. Awash in Dewars and full of health." (from Paul Caulfield's Pure Desmond website).
Meanwhile, Audrey Hepburn, who went to her grave without knowing "Audrey" was written for her, told friends that Desmond's piece was her favorite and that she loved to listen to it through her headphones it while she tended her garden.
Like many would-be card-carrying jazz hipsters I somewhat avoided Paul Desmond when I first took jazz seriously - the association of him with the Brubeck group smacked of commercialism, and all the great geniuses of jazz - Charlie Parker for example - seemed to get short shrift in the public eye because of the success of Take Five. I've since realized that Desmond was up there among the geniuses (ironically Parker named him as his favorite alto player) and what superficially seemed soft and overly intellectual in his playing belied an intensity, and "human" quality much like a great conversation; whether flippant, profound, or tender and intimate.
I've only had 2 memorable compliments about my own tenor-playing; one guy came up when i played on the street and said i sounded like Gene Ammons and another told me i sounded like Paul Desmond playing tenor. Both are major idols of mine, but I'm totally, laughably, unworthy of either compliment (someday, maybe before i die)...but i will say this about the Desmond compliment: I think it was more about the glasses.
recommended cd listenings Desmond-wise:
all his records with guitarist Jim Hall, especially -
and the records with the later quartet -
Paul Desmond Quartet Live
Like Someone In Love
my favorite desmond renderings, Alone Together, A Ship With No Sails, The night has A Thousand Eyes, Samba de Orfeu, Audrey, Bewitched, Song to a Seagull....