Monday, September 29, 2014

Paul Desmond on Ornette...

Paul Desmond (1965)
It wouldn't be easy to find two more opposed alto saxophonists in the history of jazz than Paul Desmond and Ornette Coleman. Besides playing the same instrument and having American passports, the rest couldn't be more different. For fans, it seems that today it is more politically correct saying that we like Ornette better than Desmond, but the fact is that Desmond is probably the more popular of the two. Never mind that, anyway, both deserve your listening time for very different reasons, trust me.

In a quite funny collection of Desmond's aphorisms, or "desmondisms", there's a quote of his talking about Ornette's music. No source is mentioned, and it goes like this:

It's like living in a house where everything's painted red.

Ornette (2008) por
Frank Schindelbeck
Ha, ha. Very funny, especially for those who don't quite dare saying that they don't really like Ornette and feel vindicated by Desmond. First, let me say that this is definitely not a defence of Ornette's works, there are the recordings and the enthusiastic reception by more authorized listeners than this one (John Lewis and Gunther Schuller from the very beginning, for instance), but the complete quote where that one comes from is much more interesting because it shows Desmond establishing a clear difference between personal taste and the approach an artist with their own personality ought to have. This comes from one of the memoirs by Marian McPartland, All in Good Time (University of Illinois Press, updated in 2005) and it goes like this:

One thing I'm really against is the tendency for everybody to play like everybody else. You'll hear someone developing and he'll have a definite style of his own, and then you hear him six months later and he sounds like whoever is currently fashionable. There's a lot of submerged individuality which will never appear, I think. That's one thing I like about Ornette. I'm glad he's such an individualist. I like the firmness of thought and purpose that goes into what he's doing, even though I don't always like to listen to it. It's like living in a house where everything's painted red.
You can find more "desmondisms" in Paul Caulfield's Desmond pages.

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