Paul Desmond – I Should Care (1962)

Cool jazz… with strings. Who knew such a combination could work so well?

It’s dry martini time.

Surfing Amazon’s streaming jazz channels, I came across “I Should Care” by Paul Desmond. A half-Jewish alto saxophonist best known for his work with the Dave Brubeck Quartet (he wrote Brubeck’s signature song and jazz standard “Take Five”, which obviously provided him a sinecure for life), Desmond had a rather unique personality:

Known as “the swinging introvert,” Paul Desmond once described his sound as “like a dry martini.” With his darkly lilting approach, Desmond rose to fame while soloing in the crook of Dave Brubeck’s piano, teaming with the bandleader to help form one of the most heralded groups in jazz history.

He also seems to have been a helluva character:

In their private lives Dave Brubeck and his family were very close to Paul Desmond, though the two men possessed very different personalities. Darius Brubeck recalls thinking that Desmond was his uncle almost into adolescence… Desmond also was described as a womanizer who was unable to form, or uninterested in maintaining, steady relationships with women, though he had no shortage of them throughout his life. Desmond is reported to have quipped, upon seeing a former girlfriend on the street, “There she goes, not with a whim but a banker” (a Spoonerism reference to T.S. Eliot’s “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper”). In contrast, Brubeck was a stalwart family man.

Desmond was quite well-read and retained a unique wit. He enjoyed reading works by the thinkers of his generation like Timothy Leary and Jack Kerouac, also dabbling in some LSD usage. He was known to have several addictions, including Dewar’s Scotch whisky and Pall Mall cigarettes. His chemical-dependency problems would sometimes drain him of his energy on the road. Clarinetist Perry Robinson recalls in his autobiography that Desmond would sometimes need a vitamin B12 shot just to go on playing during his later career.

Desmond died on May 30, 1977, not of his heavy alcohol habit but of lung cancer, the result of his longtime heavy smoking. Never without his humor, after he was diagnosed with cancer he expressed pleasure at the health of his liver.

“I Should Care” is from Desmond Blue (1962), an album recorded on various dates at Webster Hall in New York City.

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