Paul Desmond’s solo on ‘Wave’

A masterpiece of melodic improvisation

Some time in 1976 I discovered, in Oxford City Library, the LP ‘Live’ by the Paul Desmond Quartet. Paul Desmond is best known as the alto saxophonist in Dave Brubeck‘s group – it was he, not Brubeck who composed ‘Take Five’ – but much of his best work was under his own name, in particular the mid-sixties RCA sessions with guitarist Jim Hall, and the late recordings (1974-76) with the Canadian rhythm section of Ed Bickert (guitar), Don Thompson (bass) and Jerry Fuller (drums). ‘Live’, on the A&M label, was recorded at Bourbon Street, Toronto, in October and November 1975. The whole album is a delight. His solo on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘Wave’ is a masterpiece: three choruses in which he spins beautiful long melodic lines. The ease and assuredness of his playing may lead some to underestimate the enormity of what he achieves. This is true ‘blank-slate’ improvising, completely free of licks and clichés. It is even more remarkable when you consider that Desmond had been diagnosed with lung cancer and did not have long to live. It remains my absolute favourite alto saxophone solo. Enjoy!

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‘Paul Desmond’s solo on ‘Wave’ (Eb)