Paul Desmond (1924-1977), born Paul Emil Breitenfeld in San Francisco, California, was an American jazz saxophonist and composer known for his lyrical playing and unique tone on the alto saxophone. Desmond rose to prominence as a member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, one of the most successful and influential jazz groups of the 1950s and 1960s.
Desmond began his musical journey at a young age, initially studying the clarinet before switching to the alto saxophone. He attended San Francisco State College and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, Desmond formed a musical partnership with pianist Dave Brubeck, which would last for many years.
As a key member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Desmond played an integral role in the group’s innovative approach to jazz. They experimented with unusual time signatures and harmonic structures, resulting in their groundbreaking 1959 album “Time Out.” Desmond’s composition “Take Five,” featured on this album, became one of the most famous jazz tunes of all time and an enduring symbol of the group’s success.
Desmond’s playing was characterized by a light, airy tone and fluid melodic lines. He often cited French classical composer Claude Debussy as an influence on his style. His work with the Dave Brubeck Quartet earned him multiple awards and recognitions, including multiple appearances in the DownBeat magazine’s Critics and Readers Polls.
In addition to his work with Brubeck, Desmond led his own groups and collaborated with a wide range of artists, such as Gerry Mulligan, Jim Hall, and Chet Baker. Throughout his career, he played on several Selmer Mark VI alto saxophones, which contributed to his distinct sound.
Paul Desmond passed away in 1977, leaving behind a rich musical legacy. His contributions to jazz as a saxophonist and composer have had a lasting impact on the genre, inspiring countless musicians and listeners for generations.
In summary, Paul Desmond was an exceptional American jazz saxophonist and composer known for his lyrical playing, unique tone, and his work with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. His innovative approach to jazz and his enduring composition “Take Five” have solidified his status as a pivotal figure in the world of jazz music.
Last updated 3/18/2023.