On the warmest, most interactive and satisfying program that I've heard on NPR's "Piano Jazz" with host Marian McPartland, Marian and Dave converse and play (15 years after the death of Paul Desmond) for an hour that flies by all too quickly. (They would meet again around the start of the new millennium, this time in the presence of a live audience. The 2nd visit is predictably stiffer, less filled with surprises than the earlier meeting.) It's during this first appearance, perhaps not long after Paul's passing, that Dave expresses his affection for the '54 Storyville recording. Conceding that the audio is vastly inferior to present-day standards and explaining that the recording was made by an amateur on a "home-made tape recorder," Dave proceeds to explain how such considerations pale in comparison to the music that was captured on tape. He singles out the always creative, never predictable soloing of Paul, but also commends his own playing on "Over the Rainbow" as some of the most exceptional improvisation in the careers of either musician. Remarkably, Marian was there--and she agrees! (It should be remembered that it was Marian who originally "loaned" Dave her own drummer, Joe Morello--leading to one of the two most successful jazz albums of all time: "Time Out" (Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" remains its only rival). Despite the guaranteed income for life of one tune recorded on that 1959 studio album--Paul's "Take 5"--Dave and Marian are both insistent that "live recordings" are the only way to go when it comes to capturing winning, ceaselessly creative and surprising jazz.
I too would have to agree. No Brubeck studio album, including "Time Out," can begin to equal the inspired invention, agreeable warmth, provocative heat and ceaseless excitement of the earlier recordings on Columbia ("Jazz Goes to College") and, before that, on Fantasy ("Jazz at Oberlin"). The latter album features some of the most amazing improvising in the history of Brubeck's long career (encompassing more than half of jazz' recorded history!). "At Storyville 1954" is a quieter album, repaying careful, repeated listening. And although the fidelity is limited, it's not nearly as wretched, or virtually unlistenable, as the other Brubeck-Desmond "Live at Storyville 1954" album (with a greenish-blue cover), which Amazon has been peddling as an MP3 download for less than two bucks. Save your money--you can still buy a hamburger and coke for that. Whereas the "other" album consists of two medleys, this one has an entire program, including the version of "Over the Rainbow" that lodged in Dave's memory as a personal career highlight. No guarantees it will do the same for the listener. There are numerous live recordings that required your attendance at the original event to yield their alleged fruits (and there are a few such recordings that, by being selective about the material deemed good enough for a 40-minute LP, ended up sounding a lot better than when I was in the audience, suffering through a tedious performance by a tenor player who didn't know when to quit).