Desmond’s Quotes // How High The Moon

This installment of Desmond’s Quotes comes from yet another live appearance in a nightclub, luckily recorded from a radio broadcast over 60 years ago.  In January of 1952, Dave Brubeck and his Quartet were in Boston, Massachusetts, as part of their first tour of the East Coast, or as announcer Nat Hentoff called it, their “eastern hegira”.  Which is actually kind of funny yet true when you apply the context of the word ‘hegira’.

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The Quartet at Storyville, January 1952.  Brubeck is on piano; Wyatt ‘Bull’ Ruther, bass; Herb Barman, drums, and Paul Desmond on alto.

The Quartet appeared at the famed Boston jazz club called Storyville for a few days in January, and local radio station WMEX  made half-hour radio broadcasts each night during their appearance at the club.  The group was in good form, as was jazz critic, writer, and human dictionary Nat Hentoff, who emceed each broadcast.  The audio quality is fantastic, better than some professional recordings during the same time period.  This early iteration of Brubeck’s group featured Paul Desmond on alto sax, Wyatt ‘Bull’ Ruther on bass, and Herb Barman on drums.  Desmond was full of tasty phrases during his time in Boston, loading each solo with lyrical and witty passages.  Numerous ‘Desmond’s Quotes’ could come from this series of broadcasts alone.  One performance from their second night is a particularly humorous example of Desmond’s quick musical wit.

The tune is ‘How High The Moon’, a tune that frequently appeared on Brubeck’s set list in the early days of the Quartet.  First, the tune.  See if you can pick out anything.

I was able to identify two quotes, one of a pop tune and the other of a Charlie Parker original.  The pop tune is the opening bars of ‘I’m Glad There Is You’, and it’s a quote that Desmond referenced numerous times when he soloed on this tune (including the Oberlin version).  Listening to the words of the song, I can understand why Desmond was apparently fond of the song.  Either that or it was a sentimental message to Brubeck.

The second quote is rather funny.  It’s a syncopated version of Bird’s tune ‘Constellation’.  Constellation.  The moon.  I see what you did there, Paul.  Also, it’s interesting to note that in spite of Paul’s successful determination to not copy Charlie Parker’s alto sax style, it’s obvious that Paul listened to Bird extensively.  Paul Desmond frequently quoted Bird’s tunes and even portions of his solos, especially in the early days of the quartet.

The quote shows that Paul was actively thinking and logically executing his solos.  I’m glad there is you, moon.  How high is the moon?  Just look for the constellation.

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