I was once solely a Bird and Stitt fan, but the more I listen to Desmond, the more I find myself captivated by his magical story-telling. Forget the "dry martini" stuff and all of the talk about the velvety tone, the instantly identifiable sound, the effusive praise about his unsurpassed lyricism, etc. What makes Paul so extraordinary is his uncanny ability to listen to himself and to tell a story in which tone, dynamics, textures, intervals, tension and release, climax and anticlimax all interact to reward the listener with a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction regardless of how many times the same solo has been replayed.
Paul himself is the model of the perfect listener, constantly creating conversations with himself. He's the preacher issuing "calls," but he's also the congregation ever ready with the appropriate "response." Most of his solos are based on a minimal number of phrases, but each is subjected to numerous permutations, never repeated verbatim but perhaps an octave higher or lower, inverted or retroverted, the individual notes attacked and released with varied articulations, or a single note inflected until each of the microtonal pitches between the piano's arbitrary half notes has been sounded.
The problem with the production values favored by Creed Taylor is that the sound is approached as sufficient in itself to capture and hold the consumer's interest. Accordingly, for the listener who's content to put Desmond in the background, serving up "mood music," "Pure Desmond" should satisfy. But to the listener who's heard Paul at his inspired, passionate, alternately moody, fiery and jocular best ("Jazz at Oberlin" and "Jazz Goes to College" may be the two outstanding examples), the Creed Taylor dates--along with many of the overly homogeneous dates under Paul's own name--simply lack the dramatic interest capable of holding the listener's complete and undivided attention like the best Desmond-Brubeck encounters. (If anything, the occasionally tenuous, even tense, personal relationship between the two supports Oscar Peterson's characterization of even his trio performances as "battles to the death" between himself and a worthy peer, be it Barney Kessel or Joe Pass).
For hardcore jazz followers who are "either/or" when it comes to Desmond and Charlie Parker: I'm not sure which shock hit me harder: 1. the realization, when I got to college, that Paul Desmond along with many other "white, West Coast" musicians were "taboo" (get rid of your Columbia collection--except for Miles--I was told by the influential big-city clique whose collection was all black, East Coast, hard bop, Blue Note and Prestige) or 2. the recent discovery of a radio conversation between Paul Desmond--and Charlie Parker! Granted, it's short, but if anything Bird sounds more articulate and modest than the witty, introspective Paul. He compliments both Paul and Brubeck, prompting Paul to proclaim Bird the "greatest innovator" at this stage in the "history of jazz." Bird demurs! "That honor is yours for now, Paul. But I intend to make my contribution soon. " Not exactly an exchange between two antithetical creative spirits and certainly not a dividing line between two different schools--and even "levels"--of musical authenticity, requiring that a choice be made between the two.
Both men left us far too soon after this exchange (in the case of Bird, one year; for Paul, 20); but their respective voices continue to play themselves out in this listener's mind even now.