Ed Driscoll

Better Than A Dry Martini

Forbes looks at a new biography of Paul Desmond, who played Sancho Panza to Dave Brubeck’s Don Quixote. Their review is titled, “Better Than A Dry Martini” (Is that even possible?):

In 1959 the quartet recorded an album featuring a song in 5/4, a time signature not commonly used in jazz. The co-author of that enduring hit, “Take Five,” was the band’s alto sax player, Paul Desmond, who is now the subject of a lavish, beautifully produced, large-format biography by Doug Ramsey called Take Five (Parkside Publications, $44.95).

Throughout his career, Desmond was a fount of melody. His trademark sound and laid-back swing–he said he wanted to sound like a dry martini–hinted at the influence of tenor saxophone master Lester Young, a tendency shared by many white saxophonists of the time. Desmond thrived at medium tempos, separating him from the mass of saxophonists ripping through bebop chord changes in the wake of Charlie Parker. Even Parker was a fan, and Desmond topped magazine polls at a time when that counted for something. Ramsey’s book avoids most of the negative press criticism of Brubeck (and of Desmond), but behind the praise for Desmond there was often the suggestion that he was too good for Brubeck, an altogether less subtle musician.

But Desmond fell for Brubeck early and hard.

Read the rest. Because Time Out, the album that featured “Take Five” and Brubeck’s other classic, “Blue Rondo A La Turk”, sold in such hugh numbers, it wasn’t initially appreciated by many of Brubeck’s contemporaries in the jazz world, but it’s now seen as one of the great touchstones of 1950s cool jazz.