I have been listening a lot to Paul Desmond (born Paul Emil Breitenfeld; November 25, 1924 – May 30, 1977) again lately. I have always admired his skill and phrasing as an improvisor.
Guitarist Jim Hall said that he could improvise melodies that were better than the tune he was playing on and I think that is true.
He also had a great wit. When asked why he changed his last name to Desmond he said that he thought Breitenfeld sounded too Irish.
I especially like his duet recordings with Gerry Mulligan.
Heinrich Neuhaus (1888-1964) is a legendary pianist and pedagogue in Russia. Living under Stalin in many ways limited his reputation in the West. He even spent time in prison during World War Two for the crime of having a Germanic last name even though he was a born Russian citizen.
The documentary called “Master Heinrich” tells his story.
His son Stanislav Neuhaus (1927-1980) was also a great pianist and teacher. His career was also hindered by the Soviet regime. He likely would have won the Chopin Prize in 1949 but in the end was not allowed to make the trip to Warsaw for political reasons. Stanislav, like his father, is little known in the West. He died tragically young and his career disappointments most likely contributed to his early demise.
Stanislav Neuhaus Documentary
The reason these stories appeal to me is my longstanding sympathy for the tenacity and nobility exhibited by unsung artists. Also, having Polish heritage as I do I am naturally drawn to Slavic music (the Neuhaus family has Polish-Russian roots). In fact the Neuhaus pianistic tradition is now in its third generation as Stanislav’s son Stanislav Bunin is also a concert pianist.
These documentary films do have English subtitles that can be activated by clicking on the icon (cc) beneath frame on right. The icon is on upper right of picture on tablet or mobile devices.