Did anyone really know Paul Desmond? Surely not his parents, Shirley and Emil Breitenbach. His mother, bedeviled by phobias and obsessions, kept her distance. His father, a highly respected musician, shipped nine-year-old Paul off to relatives because of the dysfunctional maternal scene. Even his musical alter ego, Dave Brubeck, who maintained a unique contrapuntal ESP with the altoist for some 30 years, admitted he knew little about Desmond the man. In Take Five, biographer Doug Ramsey explores what he labels Desmonds’s “compartmentalization” with everyone who played a role in Desmond’s enigmatic life. Ramsey unearthed copious amounts of memorabilia and precious photos, and he met with Desmond’s ex-wife as well as the endless models, showgirls and cognoscenti (including Gloria Steinem) who came in contact with the alto saxophonist’s lonely, self-destructive quest for that elusive idea.
Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.