Paul Gonsalves

Master Musician 1920 - 1974

Paul Gonsalves is a nice, easy going guy from a beautiful family in New Bedford, Rhode Island. His mother is beautiful, his sisters and brothers are beautiful, and all of his children are beautiful. In fact, he is blessed with nothing but beautiful relatives. He had a good musical education, has great solo taste, and plays with profound authority. But he is shy, hates microphones, and loves au naturel. We call him “the strolling violins,” because he will take his horn and walk over to a group, or do his whole solo to one child in the audience.

He wants to be liked by everybody, and doesn’t want anything from anyone except a kind word and a water chaser. He will stand around and talk and socialise with people all night, whether or not he knows them, and always he says, “They’re some beautiful cats, man.”

He has respect for respect, but never makes demands for himself. There is never an evil thought in his mind. In fact, his purity of mind suggests to me that he would have made a good priest. His punch line, of course, is “Jack Daniels,” but that is just a kind of façade.

Duke Ellington

Music is My Mistress, Da Capo Press, 1973

I never knew too much about Paul. But he was very good, he fit perfectly, he had a beautiful personality. Beautiful personality. Getting a little heavy on the stand once in a while, but a beautiful personality.

Lawrence Brown, July 1976

Paul Gonsalves was possibly one of the most beautiful human beings I ever met. I remember one time I was in Vegas with Nancy Wilson, Duke was in the Sahara. So we went down to catch Duke's band after we finished our show and Paul was sober as a judge, but he fell down on the stand. He just happened to fall down, off his chair, but the way he stood up. He stood up to let everybody know that he was all right. And Duke walked to the mike and said, 'Isn't that amazing? This man doesn't even drink!' And we broke up!

Jimmy Jones, 1978

He's very much underrated. On the up tunes, he sort of reminds me of the whole school of Hawkins and Webster and Lucky Thompson, but on the ballads, he comes into his own as a very great tenor player. Paul plays a ballad that's just beautiful. His ballad playing on the date just gassed us all.

Stan Getz, 1959

Oh Mex, he would never stay in touch with his mother, is family. He was a delinquent like that. It was kind of pitiful because he was a victim of drugs and alcohol, and anybody who wanted to use him could take advantage of him.

Clark Terry

You take Paul Gonsalves. When he came into the band, the first night, he played Ben Webster's solos, every solo, identical with bens. He knew them all. He knew everything in the book. But he's no imitator. you hear him today. That was a matter of his musicianship and ear.

Duke Ellington

Paul was a hit right away. I think we were down in Baltimore when we opened up that first show with him playing “Mutton Leg.” He was such a sensation we had to repeat the number. It was so terrific.

Count Basie, 1977

He was a nice fella...he was one of the nicest fellas you ever wanna meet...he was an intelligent fellow. He was in the army 5 years, he was a nice man. As Duke said, shit, Paul Gonsalves would have been a priest, you understand; sure, Paul was very nice...regardless of what they say about Paul, he was nice. He was one of the nicest persons I ever met. He was in, you could talk to him when he was sober, but [if/when] he'd been anybody else that drinks, they're different, you know. but Paul was a beautiful person, a nice cat. That's somethin' else.

Paul told me, he said, it's not about the notes, the correctness, it's about the feeling, you play the way you know."

Harold Ashby, 22nd August 1999

Duke was my idol from the start. He did something for jazz. He gave it class.

Paul Gonsalves, 1964

In his CD "Suite Memories: Reflections", the great Jazz trumpeter, bandleader and arranger Gerald Wilson, reminisces fondly about Paul Gonsalves;

"Paul Gonsalves was, besides being such a great tenor sax player, was also my dear friend; we were even room mates for a while with the Count Basie band, that’s were I met him. He could also play the guitar very well, played a wonderful guitar. He was also an artist too by the way, he could paint. He painted me one day in Washington DC – I remember so well, he put a beard on me and he said ”This is how you’re gonna look when you’re an old man”, and that’s the way I look if I just had on my beard right now, I look exactly like he painted me that day in Washington.

But he was a wonderful person; he would give you the shirt off of his back. He could play anything by the way, he could play it right now, he didn’t have to go over it at all.

He happens to be on a recording with me with my orchestra back in nineteen hundred and fifty four where I recorded a number called Romance, which was written by Aram Khachaturian, a very highly harmonic number with very modern chord structure. And the first time he played the solo its just like perfect – this man could play anything. In Duke’s band when uh, Johnny was gone, and they had to have, they gonna play Warm Valley, all he’s gotta do is “Paul will play it”. Paul’ll play anything you gotta play, now matter what, how slow you wanted it, he could play it how fast you wanted it didn’t matter, ...[in between what...], his timing was perfect, his tone was just magnificent. He had uh, a little bit of Ben Webster in him, he could get a little bit of Hawk in him, I imagine if he felt like it he could have done a little Lester.

But uh, there’s only one thing to say about Paul Gonsalves – he was a master musician, a wonderful person, you know he played a little time with Tommy Dorsey, but no matter who he would have been with, he could have done it all. And he was a guy that loved everyone and he had not a bad word for anyone. He was just a beautiful person."

The recordings that Gerald mentions have been re-released on CD - Big Band Modern, Jazz Factory Label, ASIN BOOOFTW2MO

Gerald Wilson

Suite Memories: Reflections

Just sometimes, I think duke knows better what I can do than myself.

Paul Gonsalves, 1962