"I have won several prizes as the world's slowest alto player, as well as a
special award in 1961 for quietness."
"I was unfashionable before anyone knew who I was."
"I tried practicing for a few weeks and ended up playing too fast."
"I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a dry
On the secret of his tone: "I honestly don't know! It has something to do with
the fact that I play illegally."
"Our basic audience begins with creaking elderly types of twenty-three and
When asked by Gene Lees what accounted for the melancholy in his playing he
replied, "Wellllll, the fact that I'm not playing better."
“I discovered early in life that if you take gym first period, you can go
into the wrestling room and sit in the corner and sleep.”
He was an English major in college. His reason for not pursuing a literary
career, "I could only write at the beach, and I kept getting sand in my
"Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can't be taught."
Of writer Jack Kerouac he said, "I hate the way he writes. I kind of love the
way he lives, though."
Of Vogue fashion models, he said, "Sometimes they go around with guys who are
scuffling -- for a while. But usually they end up marrying some cat with a
factory. This is the way the world ends, not with a whim but a banker."
"Sometimes I get the feeling that there are orgies going on all over new York
City, and somebody says, `Let's call Desmond,' and somebody else says, 'Why
bother? He's probably home reading the Encyclopedia Britannica.'"
His response to the annoying banality of an interviewer, "You're beginning to
sound like a cross between David Frost and David Susskind, and that is a cross I
Shortly before the Dave Brubeck Quartet disbanded, "We're working as if it were
going out of style -- which of course it is."
Of yogurt he said, "I don't like it, but Dave is always trying things like that.
He's a nutritional masochist. He'll eat anything as long as he figures it's good
Of contact lenses: "Not for me. If I want to tune everybody out, I just take off
my glasses and enjoy the haze"
On Ornette Coleman's playing, "It's like living in a house where everything's
Doug Ramsey wrote that Desmond on seeing Barbara Jones' oil painting of four
cats stalking a mouse said, "Ah, the perfect album cover for when I record with
the Modern Jazz Quartet." Ramsey pointed out that the mouse was mechanical and
Desmond responded, "In that case, Cannonball will have to make the record."
Desmond's fondness for scotch was well known. So in early 1976 when a physical
examination showed lung cancer, he was ironically pleased that his liver was
fine. "Pristine, perfect. One of the great livers of our time. Awash in Dewars
and full of health."
Excerpts from the cover notes to "Take Ten":
"I'm taking his [jazz writer, George Avakian] place this time because he's up to
his jaded ears in Newport tapes and partly because this way we'll have room on
the back for pictures."
"Briefly, then, I'm this saxophone player from the Dave Brubeck Quartet, with
which I've been associated with since shortly after the Crimean War. You can
tell which one is me because when I'm not playing, which is surprisingly often,
I'm leaning against the piano... [a little later, speaking of guitarist, Jim
Hall] ... hilariously easy to work with except except he complains once in a
while when I lean on the guitar."
"Gene Cherico, who's becoming a thoroughly fantastic bass player, has only been
playing bass for the last eight years. (Before that he was a drummer, but a tree
fell on him. No kidding, that's the kind of life he leads)... Connie Kay is, of
course, the superb drummer from the Modern Jazz Quartet, and if a tree ever
falls on him I may just shoot myself."
"Bob Prince, doubtless overwhelmed at having a song named after him, appeared
frequently with advice and council which was totally disregarded."
"I would also like to thank my father who discouraged me from playing the violin
at an early age."
Comment by Doug Ramsey on Paul Desmond: "We were in an elevator in the Portland
Hilton, waiting for the doors to close when the car jerked and dropped slightly,
and a bell sounded. "What was that?" a startled woman asked. "E-flat," Paul
Desmond and I said simultaneously."
Paul Desmond on why he changed his name said, "Breitenfeld sounded too Irish."
Books on Desmond