Paul Desmond (November 25, 1924 - May 30, 1977) was a jazz saxophonist and composer. He came to prominence with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, which lasted from 1951 until 1967. Desmond even penned their biggest hit, "Take Five."
He was born Paul Emil Breitenfeld but changed his name because he felt it wasn't suited to a musician. He had reportedly picked his new name, Desmond, out of a telephone book.
Desmond's alto saxophone tone and technique owed nothing to the great alto player of the time, Charlie Parker; instead his was a clear, light, floating sound and highly melodic playing style. He loved gentle ballads and would often float off into horizontal until awakened by his bandmates. Much of the success of the classic Quartet was due to the superposition of his light, airy style over Brubeck's sometimes relatively heavy, polytonal piano work.
Desmond also collaborated with Gerry Mulligan, Jim Hall, Chet Baker, Ed Bickert and others over the years. After the break-up of the Quartet in 1967, he retired for a while, then began to resurface in occasional reunions with Brubeck, Mulligan, and Hall, in a Christmas concert with the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1971, and in other collaborations. His gift for improvised counterpoint is perhaps most notable on the two albums he recorded with Mulligan ("Mulligan-Desmond Quartet" and "Two of a Mind").
In addition to his playing, he was known for his wit, as reflected in the liner notes for his solo albums, and as recollected by others. He was rumoured for several years to be writing an autobiography, but one never surfaced. He died in 1977, not of his heavy alcohol habit but of lung cancer caused by his heavy smoking habit; he was ironically pleased by the condition of his liver as revealed during medical tests. "Pristine, one of the great livers of our time. Awash in Dewar's and full of health." His last concert was with Brubeck in February 1977, in New York City. His fans didn't know that he was already dying.