Paul Desmond is an American alto saxophonist and jazz composer. A member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet for seventeen years, he composed the group's biggest hit: Take Five.
Paul Desmond was born in San Francisco (California) in 1924 as Paul Emil Breitenfeld. His father was a pianist and organist in silent films. After trying his hand at the violin, Desmond took up the clarinet at the age of twelve and a few years later turned to the alto saxophone.
He met pianist Dave Brubeck during his military service in 1944. Together they founded the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951, which helped to expand the jazz audience for almost 17 years. They recorded numerous hits: Jazz at Oberlin (1953), Jazz goes to College (1954) and, of course, Time out (1959), which includes the song Take Five. A real hit, this piece composed by Paul Desmond revolutionised the world of jazz with its original rhythm. The quartet disbanded in 1967, when Brubeck decided to devote himself to composing.
Paul Desmond also recorded albums as a leader, notably with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, guitarists Jim Hall and Ed Bickert. He also played with Chet Baker in the 1950s and recorded with him in the 1970s.
Paul Desmond, who died of cancer in 1977, was applauded worldwide for his fluid, airy playing combined with a clear tone and relaxed phrasing.
He played a Selmer Paris Super Action alto saxophone.
Photo credits: Getty / Michael Ochs Archives - Carl Van Vechten collection