Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Paul Desmond and Chet Baker:Remembering The Jazz Giants: Chapter Five

Sunrise Flowers by Robert Nicosia

When it comes to alto sax players, Paul Desmond has always been my favorite.  His sound was and still is unique.  Paul was born in 1925 and died in 1977 and during his rather short life he put his own stamp on the American and International Jazz scene.  His soft and airy tone combined with his creative solos are still clean and fresh today, 35 years after his death. As I write about the "Jazz Giants" one aspect of their performances stand out for all of them.  Their recordings are still current and exciting today, years after they were recorded.  The first "YouTube" I selected is the Johnny Mandell classic "Emily"  recorded by Paul at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1975, two years before he died.  When you listen to this recording, it will tell you all you have to know about this great alto player.  Paul performs seemingly effortless, beautifully projecting the emotions of the lyrics. Paul of course, played for years with Dave Brubeck and composed perhaps their most notable song "Take Five".  I still miss the pure and clear alto tones of Paul Desmond, but I am happy that we can still listen to his wonderful recordings.

The second jazz giant included in this blog is Chet Baker. I included Chet with Paul because their classic styles and sounds fit perfectly together. I have attached a "YouTube" video of Chet playing and singing Rodgers & Hart's "My Funny Valentine". Chet came into the national jazz spotlight in 1952 when he joined the Jerry Mulligan Quartet.  The interplay between Jerry's baritone sax and Chet's trumpet broke new jazz ground with the two complementing each other's solos in perfect anticipation. The success only lasted for a year as a result of Mulligan getting arrested and imprisoned on drug charges. Chet had his own problems with drugs in the 1950's and for the remainder of his life which shortened what could have been a brilliant career. Chet moved to Europe in 1978 and stayed there until his death in 1974.  Chet's ability to play and sing songs from the "Great American Songbook" with intense emotional feeling is a skill that few musicians have ever been able to capture.  He certainly was a giant!

The final "YouTube" video selection contains both Paul and Chet playing "Autumn Leaves" together. It has a wonderful sound that gives the listener the feeling that these two talented musicians could have been brothers.


  1. One of the greatest musical performances by two of the most inventive and sensitive musicians to ever blow into wind instruments. "AUTUMN LEAVES" was the epitome of everything Jazz should be; the best in creative improvisation and the best in a raw, soulful, heartfelt performance.

    1. Wow! I wish I said that! Dear Anonymous: Thanks for the beautifully written words. I would like you to think about writing a guess blog for one of your Jazz Giants. I would help out if you would just send me the draft. Please consider it.


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