Home > Cool Jazz > Paul Desmond…”The Sound of the Dry Martini”

Paul Desmond…”The Sound of the Dry Martini”

Paul Desmond (November 25, 1924 – May 30, 1977) was a jazz saxophonist and composer. He came to prominence with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, which lasted from 1951 until 1967. Desmond was the definitive “cool” alto saxophonist, with a style that slightly bore some resemblance to that of Stan Getz, except Desmond liked to milk the high notes more.   He indulged in counter-melodies with Brubeck (who played piano) and played witty, yet logical solos that really drove the Brubeck quartet.  He rarely played solos in double-time, preferring a cool, laid-back setting, but his solos contained surprising twists.  He is probably best known for his classic solo on his composition “Take Five.”

Paul Desmond was widely quoted as saying that he wanted his saxophone to sound like a dry martini. That quote could apply to the man himself: he was urbane, witty, sophisticated, and the music he made was intoxicating

Paul Desmond Quotes:

  •  I could only write at the beach, and I kept getting sand in my typewriter.
  • His reason for not pursuing a literary career
  • I hate the way he writes. I kind of love the way he lives, though.
    • On writer Jack Kerouac
  • I have won several prizes as the world’s slowest alto player, as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness.
  • I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a dry martini.
    • About his distinctive light sound
  • I tried practicing for a few weeks and ended up playing too fast.
    • About the value of practice
  • I was unfashionable before anyone knew who I was.
    • About his playing style
  • It’s like living in a house where everything’s painted red.
    • On Ornette Coleman’s playing
  • Not for me. If I want to tune everybody out, I just take off my glasses and enjoy the haze.
    • On contact lenses
  • 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.’
  • Well, that I’m not playing better.
    • When asked by Gene Lees what accounted for the melancholy in his playing
  • Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.
Paul Desmond

Paul Desmond

Paul Desmond Gerry Mulligan

Paul Desmond Gerry Mulligan

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