After focusing on records for so long, this post is a change of pace and a return to one of the original reasons why I started my blog in the first place: Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck! In this edition of ‘Desmond’s Quotes’, I finally and actually solve a mystery that was sparked by something I read in a book.
First, about the music. ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ was a staple in the songbook of the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the early 1950’s. It was originally part of the songbook of Brubeck’s commercially unsuccessful early band, the Octet, and thus became a frequently-played tune with the quartet. Paul Desmond had many memorable encounters with it, most famously during a phenomenal 1953 Oberlin college concert, where he was on fire and peppered his solo with different quotes. This post is not about that version, however. This is about a lesser-known but equally phenomenal outing on the tune, recorded a few days after their Oberlin appearance.
March of 1953 found the Brubeck quartet in the Midwestern United States, and one of their stops on their way back West was at the famed jazz club The Blue Note in Chicago, Illinois. Performing at the club one night, they were picked up by a radio broadcast by NBC and beamed to radios across the country. On the broadcast, the Brubeck quartet shared airtime with another group, playing one short set in the middle of the other group’s set. The air-check of the broadcast captures Brubeck’s entire set, and although the tunes are brief, the group was on it, with Desmond in particularly fantastic form. Each solo of his is tasty and full of logic, humor, and beauty. They are also full of fun quotes and something I call musical Desmondisms- phrases that as far as I know are made up by Desmond and aren’t quotes of other songs. One of each crops repeatedly in Desmond’s solos during the broadcast, in addition to numerous other quotes of other songs.
‘The Way You Look Tonight’ is special, however. In the famed writer and critic Doug Ramsey’s book on Paul Desmond, entitled ‘Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond”, he talked with Arnold and Caroline Roth, friends of Desmond’s that lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Roths told Ramsey about an interesting occurrence that happened concerning Desmond and the Brubeck quartet. Late one night, while messing with the radio in search of some jazz, they chanced upon a local station. Arnold Roth picks up the story.
“Then I got this local station. It was a broadcast from a small club, right in or just outside of Chicago. In those days on remotes, the announcer did kind of a pitch for the club, and then I heard them. Paul kept playing quotes and one was, ‘Can’t You Hear Me Calling, Caroline?’…”
Mr. Roth then points out another quote that he liked that he caught, which was ‘Buzzy’, a Charlie Parker tune. They mentioned how they could hear Brubeck laughing as Paul did all of his musical games. The Roths had no idea that the Dave Brubeck Quartet was in Chicago when they turned their radio on, and the fact that they not only stumbled upon them but that Desmond seemed to play a quote aimed at Mrs. Roth (and thus both of them by default) was unbelievable.
When I read that in Ramsey’s book, I began to wonder if that performance was somehow on record somewhere. Surely, I thought, if it was recorded it would be known and available to listen to. I was disappointed though when the book made no mention of it existing, and numerous online searches turned up nothing. I had bought some recordings from an album on iTunes of a live appearance of the Brubeck quartet in Chicago’s Blue Note Club, but didn’t think about it for very long.
That was in 2012. Fast-forward to this year. I began rereading Ramsey’s book on Desmond again, as I often do. I decided to go on YouTube and give ‘Can’t You Hear Me Calling, Caroline?’ a listen, just for kicks and giggles. It’s a very old song that is over a hundred years old, and the melody rang absolutely no bells. I again figured it was a lost cause and left it alone. Then tonight, while I was supposed to be studying, I gave it one last try. After repeatedly listening to an instrumental version of ‘Can’t You Hear Me Calling, Caroline?’, I listened to that album with the 1953 Chicago radio broadcast of the Brubeck group. It was on ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ that I finally caught it. It’s a brief snippet of the main melody, Desmond adds some syncopation, and the radically different harmonies of the tune mask it, but it’s there. That ‘Buzzy’ quote is also there, just before the ‘Caroline’ bit. It’s a truly remarkable testament to Desmond’s mind and musical prowess. We don’t hear Brubeck laugh on this particular track, but on the other tunes in the broadcast, particularly on ‘Stardust’, Desmond’s antics get not only Brubeck laughing but the audience chuckling as well.
This particular outing on ‘The Way You Look Tonight’, in addition to the Charlie Parker and ‘Caroline’ quote, has a musical Desmondism that begins at Desmond’s second chorus, lasting for the first four bars. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding this performance, as Desmond uses both the Charlie Parker tune and this Desmondism numerous times throughout the broadcast. He throws in a little of ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’ in the middle section of his second chorus (something he did on the Oberlin recording as well), and then he and Brubeck take the song out with some complex improvised counterpoint. The entire broadcast (at least Brubeck’s part) is worth a listen. Imagine that it’s late in the night and you’re up fiddling with the knobs on your radio trying to find some live jazz.
Here’s the old tune Paul Desmond quotes in memory of his friends in Philadelphia. The melody is delivered almost painfully straight here. Can you find it in Desmond’s solo?
And here’s Charlie Parker’s tune ‘Buzzy’. Try and find it in Desmond’s solo.
If you can’t find the quotes, don’t worry. ‘Buzzy’ appears at around the 56-second mark, ‘Caroline’ at the one-minute mark. That Desmondism crops up at the 1:12-mark. If you have the time, listen to the rest of the Brubeck broadcast, try and find these and other quotes in Desmond’s and Brubeck’s solos. They’re there. Happy listening!