All profit supporting special needs music education and Help Musicians
SYOS

That Paul Desmond Sound

Bobby G

Senior Member
Messages
4,992
Location
Wonderful Welwyn Garden City, Herts
I didn't know whether to ask this here or in the sax players section, but anyway, my question is fairly simple. How does Paul Desmond get that unique sound? It's so, well, sort of polite and unassuming, hardly any edge on it, like I would imagine classical sax would sound if I'd heard any. Much as I like the more, well, spirited playing of the likes of Ornette, Dolphy and many others there's something gorgeously captivating about Paul Desmond's sound and playing.
 

Greg Strange

Well-Known Member
My personal opinion is his sound and style was unique to himself - whether it was down to the equipment he used (Selmer Super Action ca. early 1950s alto and Gregory mouthpiece) who knows. I'm pretty sure US Public Radio in their Jazz Profiles series covered Paul Desmond, I can't recall whether they mentioned he was a classically trained sax or clarient player.

Definitely an unique player and sound, and one of my favourites along with Johnny Hodges, Sonny Criss, Hank Crawford, Art Pepper...

Greg S.
 

Jamesmac

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,872
I have heard/read Pete talk about a guy who does a Desmond tribute act. And I believe very good. Ask Pete.
 

llamedos

Senior Member
Messages
429
Location
Lincolnshire England
I have a sneaking feeling that the secret is more down to the old adage- "practice, practice and more practice". That level of virtuosity cannot be an accident.

By the way, I really rate Paul Desmond above most of his contemporaries mostly because of his consistency which many may find boring. If so, I wish I could be that boring.

Dave
 

Kingsleyhk

Senior Member
Messages
507
Location
Nr. Bandung, Indonesia
He's one of my heroes - also a great wit and writer. See this web page if you're interested:

http://www.kingsleyjazz.com/170035010 Dead link


This is a quote supposedly from him:

"I play a Selmer alto and a Gregory 4A-18M mouthpiece,
both circa 1951, and Rico 3 1\2 reeds."


-- Paul Desmond, January, 1976

For what it's worth, a guitarist friend of mine played with him once and said that Desmond used a very hard reed and that there was a lot of water sprayed around!
 
Last edited by a moderator:

daveysaxboy

Big ruff Geordie bendy metal blower
Messages
3,303
Desmonds tone for jazz alto is for me the best ever .As for his style it was like no other.Talk about chilled out.Interstellar God of alto.2nd place for jazz alto is Cannonball Adderly for his style of blues,funk bop and he had a great sound also.
 

altissimo

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,348
Location
leicester
the secret of the Paul Desmond sound is Paul Desmond...

if you're after a similarly dark tone then a hard reed on a relatively close facing will help. A Gregory 4A is about .067
Get an old fashioned dark sounding mouthpiece - scooped sidewalls, very low baffle, round medium-large chamber - I've got a New York Woodwind Co alto mouthpiece that's got a dark and rich sound - not that I'll ever play like Desmond, so it's lying in a box unused. An Otto Link Tone Edge is also fairly dark sounding, despite the name it's one of the least edgy sounding pieces I've ever had

here's some info on Gregory mouthpieces - http://theowanne.com/knowledge/mouthpiece-museum/gregory

Greg Wier makes copies of Gregory mouthpieces - http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/GW-GREGOR...116?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item589f6e976c

of course you'll need to practice for about 20 years and be a genius improviser before you could get anywhere close to sounding like the great Mr Desmond
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Café Supporter
Messages
8,480
Location
Beautiful Springville, Utah USA
Desmond's playing could be described as "understated". He doesn't play a lot of notes---just the "right" ones. The dynamic level of his playing stays well in the moderate range. He tends to favor the higher register and plays the high tones with a "subtone effect" creating an almost flute-like sound. Desmond's style was part of the "cool" west coast jazz style that was in direct contrast to the hard, fast, and loud be-bop taking place in New York and Chicago.

Desmond himself described his sound as a "dry martini" and said that he stopped practicing so much because he was starting to play too fast. As far as getting the Desmond sound on alto, listen and play along with Take Five more than a hundred times. That's what I did. It's not so much the mouthpiece or even the reed strength, its the concept.
 

Bobby G

Senior Member
Messages
4,992
Location
Wonderful Welwyn Garden City, Herts
All interesting stuff! Not that I particularly want to sound like Paul D, but I do like his understated style and knack of choosing the right notes (and usually in the right order!). I have to agree with BigMartin, especially after watching the Brubeck set on TV last week, Paul's setup does sound quite resistant, which wouldn't really suit me.
 

Ivan

Undecided
Café Supporter
Messages
7,731
Location
Peeblesshire
He's one of my heroes - also a great wit and writer. See this web page if you're interested:

http://www.kingsleyjazz.com/170035010

This is a quote supposedly from him:

"I play a Selmer alto and a Gregory 4A-18M mouthpiece,
both circa 1951, and Rico 3 1\2 reeds."

-- Paul Desmond, January, 1976

For what it's worth, a guitarist friend of mine played with him once and said that Desmond used a very hard reed and that there was a lot of water sprayed around!


It's great to read your biographical bits about Paul Desmond to put flesh into his character.... and he sounds like a real charcter. That's a great resource you've put there Kingsley, thanking you

And oh, I too find his playing sublime
 

Morgan Fry

Senior Member
Messages
447
Location
Leeds
Desmond had a hard reed sound. Equipment wise, any medium chamber alto piece (there's a million decent Meyer copies out there) with a hard reed will get you in the right neighborhood. The Gregory is different in shape from the Meyer, but not enough to matter for these purposes, so much more of the sound comes out of you than out of the gear. Play along, record yourself, etc.
 

Jamesmac

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,872
Desmond had a hard reed sound. Equipment wise, any medium chamber alto piece (there's a million decent Meyer copies out there) with a hard reed will get you in the right neighborhood. The Gregory is different in shape from the Meyer, but not enough to matter for these purposes, so much more of the sound comes out of you than out of the gear. Play along, record yourself, etc.

I once saw a very expensive MP on ebay guaranteed to give you the Desmond sound in the description, but he failed to mention if it was THE Paul Desmond or just the local handyman. So no chance to return for NOT AS DESCRIBED.:)
 

flamingoer

Member
Messages
139
Location
london
If you like that Desmond sound look out for London-based US player Alison Neale.
Paul, with more than a touch of Art Pepper. Really worth catching.
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Café Supporter
Messages
8,480
Location
Beautiful Springville, Utah USA
For what it's worth Meyer has a mouthpiece that is supposed to allow the player to recreated Desmond's sound named the Meyer G. I played one briefly in a music store and it played quite well. It would be nice for jazz combo work but I would want more volume and edge for playing lead alto in a big band setting.
 

Morgan Fry

Senior Member
Messages
447
Location
Leeds
For what it's worth Meyer has a mouthpiece that is supposed to allow the player to recreated Desmond's sound named the Meyer G. I played one briefly in a music store and it played quite well. It would be nice for jazz combo work but I would want more volume and edge for playing lead alto in a big band setting.

Yeah, the chamber of the Meyer G is reasonably close to the Gregory. I would want more edge for lead playing, too, but not if I was going for a Desmond thing.
 

Mack

Senior Member
Messages
532
Location
Devon
I agree with Tom - the Philtone Solstice mouthpiece does do the trick. I bought one having heard the claims by the maker and the reviewers - and I was surprised to find it was true. I had been playing with a Yanigasawa ebonite piece before, but the Philtone made it seem a bit one dimensional. I will never need another mouthpiece.

(So why did I buy a Francois Louis Spectruoso piece a few weeks ago? This must stop...)

Back on the Desmond theme one or two people have commented that my sound approaches within a mile of being a pale impression of Desmond - I think you will gradually veer towards sounding like the player you really want to sound like - your mind is constantly sending unconcious messages to your mouth to adjust and try and find that tone. I take in very little mouthpiece and just slacken off to get subtone on every note, progressively getting higher. The effect is even more pronounced on soprano - no more strangled duck tones there.

I'm not making any claims of being able to play like him - I am still playing all the wrong notes, in the wrong order - they just sound quite nice individually! :)
 

Popular Discussions

Top Bottom