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.
The stories of unsung heroes in the music world seem endless. I recently ran across one more.
Italian pianist Sergio Fiorentino (1927-1998) was a great classical pianist. His career started strong in the early 1950’s until a plane crash in 1954 disabled him for some time.
By the late 1950’s he began to re-establish himself and made several recordings for some small British labels. But by 1974 he gave up a concert career and turned to teaching. After all, the shameless self-promotion required for a concert and recording career wasn’t much to his liking.
However, after he retired from teaching in 1993 a German record collector and long-time fan of his helped him make a comeback. Slowly his concert and recording career was relaunched to great critical acclaim. Big plans were in the offing.
Sadly, in August of 1998 at the age of 70 Sergio Fiorentino died suddenly at his home in Naples. Thankfully, he made several recordings during this final period and there are several videos (including some interesting interview segments done in 1994) on You Tube. In one of these segments he even plays some very interesting Art Tatum-like jazz when he discusses Fats Waller. There is also a very intriguing 50 minute interview where he discusses Rachmaninoff. Much of his music, including his early recordings can also be sampled at You Tube.