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The Very Dry Wit of Paul Desmond

Discussion in 'Bass Humor [DB]' started by Sam Sherry, May 31, 2003.

  1. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Here are some choice quips attributed to PD:

    "I have won several prizes as the world's slowest alto player, as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness."

    "I was unfashionable before anyone knew who I was."

    "I tried practicing for a few weeks and ended up playing too fast."

    "I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a dry martini."

    On the secret of his tone: "I honestly don't know! It has something to do with the fact that I play illegally."

    "Our basic audience begins with creaking elderly types of twenty-three and above."

    When asked by Gene Lees what accounted for the melancholy in his playing he replied, "Wellllll, the fact that I'm not playing better."

    “I discovered early in life that if you take gym first period, you can go into the wrestling room and sit in the corner and sleep.”

    He was an English major in college. His reason for not pursuing a literary career, "I could only write at the beach, and I kept getting sand in my typewriter."

    "Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can't be taught."

    Of writer Jack Kerouac he said, "I hate the way he writes. I kind of love the way he lives, though."

    Of Vogue fashion models, he said, "Sometimes they go around with guys who are scuffling -- for a while. But usually they end up marrying some cat with a factory. This is the way the world ends, not with a whim but a banker."

    "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.'"

    His response to the annoying banality of an interviewer, "You're beginning to sound like a cross between David Frost and David Susskind, and that is a cross I cannot bear."

    Shortly before the Dave Brubeck Quartet disbanded, "We're working as if it were going out of style -- which of course it is."

    Of yogurt he said, "I don't like it, but Dave is always trying things like that. He's a nutritional masochist. He'll eat anything as long as he figures it's good for him."

    Of contact lenses: "Not for me. If I want to tune everybody out, I just take off my glasses and enjoy the haze"

    On Ornette Coleman's playing, "It's like living in a house where everything's painted red."

    Doug Ramsey wrote that Desmond on seeing Barbara Jones' oil painting of four cats stalking a mouse said, "Ah, the perfect album cover for when I record with the Modern Jazz Quartet." Ramsey pointed out that the mouse was mechanical and Desmond responded, "In that case, Cannonball will have to make the record."

    Desmond's fondness for scotch was well known. So in early 1976 when a physical examination showed lung cancer, he was ironically pleased that his liver was fine. "Pristine, perfect. One of the great livers of our time. Awash in Dewars and full of health."

    Excerpts from the cover notes to "Take Ten":

    "I'm taking his [jazz writer, George Avakian] place this time because he's up to his jaded ears in Newport tapes and partly because this way we'll have room on the back for pictures."

    "Briefly, then, I'm this saxophone player from the Dave Brubeck Quartet, with which I've been associated with since shortly after the Crimean War. You can tell which one is me because when I'm not playing, which is surprisingly often, I'm leaning against the piano... [a little later, speaking of guitarist, Jim Hall] ... hilariously easy to work with except except he complains once in a while when I lean on the guitar."

    "Bob Prince, doubtless overwhelmed at having a song named after him, appeared frequently with advice and council which was totally disregarded."

    "I would also like to thank my father who discouraged me from playing the violin at an early age."

    Comment by Doug Ramsey on Paul Desmond: "We were in an elevator in the Portland Hilton, waiting for the doors to close when the car jerked and dropped slightly, and a bell sounded. "What was that?" a startled woman asked. "E-flat," Paul Desmond and I said simultaneously."
  2. Truly one of the greats.
  3. There's a story that Paul kept an AP newspaper photo of a famous Greek shipping magnate who was touring the estate of a former silent film star with possible intention of puchasing it.

    Paul titled the photo "Aristotle Contemplating the Home of Buster."
  4. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    i LOVE it!

    I was just reading a Gene Lees story on Benny Carter. Benny called PD the most under-rated alto player ever.

    The thing that I love about the post, Sam, is that you can hear the same dryness and honed intelligence in PD's humour that you can hear in his alto playing.

    Now that's cool.

    I'm passing this one on to my pals.
  5. I wish these young "shreders" today would listen to how PD and cats like him did so much with so little. Simplicity is so underated these days.
    Think I'll go sip a dry martini...
  6. This thread reminds me of a great jazz group: Samuel states the theme, "The Very Dry Wit of Paul Desmond", and develops it in his extended post.

    Peter McFerrin, Mike Goodbar, and Damon Rondeau take their solo's with Damon making the terrific analogy of the theme to Paul Desmond's alto playing, "you can hear the same dryness and honed intelligence in PD's humour that you can hear in his alto playing."

    Then Mcbassdude brings it home with his wish that others would listen to what Paul Desmond could do with so little, and says, "Think I'll go sip a dry martini..."
  7. ....and Horace Silver ends the piece with "Peace"
  8. a quickie coda, loosely in the same vein as some of the Desmond lines:

    Sax great Zoot Sims was well known for his liking for strong drink, and was apparently pretty well sauced for many performances. Once asked how he could play so well while drunk, he replied, "No problem, I practice drunk too!"

  9. BassAxe


    Jul 22, 2002
    Culpeper, VA
    I had to come back and reply. I read this about an hour ago and I'm still cracking up.

    I thought things like that only happened to me?

    :) :D :p ;) :cool:
  10. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Supposedly Zoot Sims was once contracted to make an appearance at a high school and teach the band students a thing or two. He'd gigged the night before and was apparently sleeping it off at his crib, running late for the appearance the next morning. Somebody went and collected him up and set him down in front of the young band. The kids made their way thru a tune, and waited for a critique from the master. But Zoot stood up and started heading for the door without saying a word. The band teacher said "Wait, Mr. Sims...don't you have anything you want to say to the band?" Zoot replied, "Yeah...play better".

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