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Book Excerpts

Paul Desmond: Take Ten

By Published: December 3, 2008
"Embarcadero" and "El Prince" are sort of bossa novas but we're not really admitting it, figuring that by October if you say bossa nova to anybody they'll just scream and jump out the window. They were provisionally titled "X" and "Y," respectively, which in a way are better titles... Avakian picked "El Prince," referring obliquely to Bob Prince, noted arranger, so he can absorb the guilt for that one. And "Embarcadero" is excusable since it's like home. And people not from San Francisco always think it sounds romantic. iv

In his liner notes, Paul noted Connie Kay's special contribution to Bossa Antigua.

At the end of "Alone Together," Connie hit the big cymbal a good whang there and it sailed off the drum set and crashed on the floor. After the hysterical laughter subsided we were getting set to tear through it one more time but we listened to it anyway, out of curiosity, and it sounded kind of nice so we left it in. That's one of the few advantages this group has over the MJQ—if Connie's cymbal hits the floor on an MJQ record date, you by God know it, but with this group you can't really be sure.

Desmond was taken with his father's ability as a lyricist and continued urging him to provide words for his songs. Emil apparently wrote lyrics for "Embarcadero" and "Take Ten," but only those for "Embarcadero" materialized in Rick Breitenfeld's cache of Desmondania. Around Christmas time, 1963, Paul wrote home that Judy Holliday had become an Emil Breitenfeld fan.

Judy was delighted with the "Take Ten" lyric. Especially where it goes "oops," although I have to report that she also laughed happily at the point in "Embarcadero" where it goes "oh, fog," but that's because she has a low singer's mind. I'm very impressed, as always, but it means more coming from her because she really writes great lyrics, which you just have to take my word for, and she hadn't been able to come up with anything for either of those tunes. I'm not sure anybody is ever going to sing them, but please put yourself down officially as the lyricist and I'll start song-plugging."

Emil was philosophical about the likelihood of vocal versions of the songs creating a stir.

As to song plugging, don't take it too seriously, your stuff is instrumental, not meant to be sung, and apparently doing very nicely thank you without vocal interpretation. Twenty or more years ago there was a tune to which a highly competent lyric writer gave the name "Strictly Instrumental." I don't take my efforts seriously either, in fact they have no value whatever in helping your music, which doesn't need help anyhow.

In his notes for Bossa Antigua, the followup album to Take Ten, Desmond identified himself as "the John P. Marquand of the alto saxophone," referring to the best-selling novelist whose social satires some critics dismissed as slick. After expanding on the thought that by now the bossa nova (new thing) had become an old thing, Desmond discussed the tunes, pointing out that all but two were original compostions. The title piece and "Samba Cepeda," which was issued years after the original album, are different takes of the same tune. The alternate title was a way for Paul to honor Orlando Cepeda, the great .300 hitter of the San Francisco Giants, a passionate music lover. Desmond wrote "Alianca," but Gloria Steinem titled it.

"I can't take complete credit," Steinem said, "because it was during the Kennedy administration and the Alliance for Progress was underway in Latin America. That made me think of "Alianca," a Spanish word understandable in English. Also, when I was working part of the time at Show magazine, for some reason some of the editors had been in Brazil and they brought back early bossa nova recordings. It was easy, deep, interesting. I remember saying to Paul, 'This would be wonderful for you to play.' In later years he would say he wished he had recorded it then."

Desmond elaborated on the other pieces.

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