There are certain stories behind songs that I personally love to tell, the story behind Paul Desmond’s tune “Audrey”: is one of them! How something seemingly simple can have such an interesting story behind what sparked the inspiration to create it, and even more how songs can continue to develop memories long after it is heard for the first time.
The story of the song ‘Audrey’ is a sweet yet sad story, it goes beyond the original inspiration for Paul Desmond to write it. Here’s the story:

In 1954, when the Dave Brubeck Quartet would play at Basin Street East, the alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond, would call for an intermission at the same exact time or should I say… take a ‘time out’. Anyway, during this intermission, he would leave and walk through Times Square to the 46th Street Theatre where Audrey Hepburn at the time, was starring in “Ondine.”. He would simply stand in the alley and watch her leave and get into her limo. One could assume at some point they met, but they never did.

Portrait of Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond
Credit: Library of Congress

From Paul Desmond’s biography written by Doug Ramsey:
“Paul would look at his watch the whole time we were playing at Basin Street,” Brubeck told me. “He knew when she would walk out the stage door and get in her limousine, and he wanted to be standing there. So, when I’d see him watching the time, I knew I’d better take a quick intermission, or I was going to have problems with Paul. He’d put his horn down, and out the door he’d go, and he’d run down just to stand and watch her leave.”
“Paul told me that,” I said to Brubeck, “and I asked him, ‘What did you say to her?’ And he looked surprised and said, ‘Nothing. Are you kidding?’

That same year, Paul Desmond wrote the tune “Audrey” which was part of the “Brubeck Time” album. It became one of his most cherished works, and for good reason, it’s really a beautiful song in my opinion. Nothing else really came of it, or at least it seemed that way. Desmond would never know the impact his song made, and on the very person he wrote it about.

In 1977, Paul Desmond passed away from lung cancer, he still had not met Audrey Hepburn and still had not known if the song ever reached her ears.
In 1992, publicist and author Peter Levinson sent her a copy of “Brubeck Time” after it was reissued as a CD and she sent him back a note that said:
“Dear Peter, Thank you for such a lovely gift—I am thrilled to have the Brubeck C.D. with ‘My Song,’ the ultimate compliment. You letter is so lovely, and I am most grateful for all your kindness.”

Credit: LOOK Magazine Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

Following Audrey Hepburn’s death in 1993, her husband, Andrea Dotti, had reached out to Dave Brubeck to ask if they would be able to play “Audrey” at the memorial service held for her by the UN to honor her work with children. During this call, Brubeck was caught by surprise, he had never known that her husband would be aware of “Audrey” in which Dotti had told Brubeck that Audrey Hepburn would play the song every single night before she went to bed. When she would walk through the garden, she “Audrey” playing through her headphones.
“Paul never knew,” LIola Brubeck (Dave Brubeck’s wife) said. “And he was so in love with Audrey.” (Ramsey, D., Brubeck, D., Brubeck, I., & Caulfield, P. (2005). Take Five: The public and private lives of Paul Desmond. Parkside Publications.)

I know personally if I would’ve seen Audrey Hepburn in person, I’d probably write a song about it too!

Become a Member

Join the growing family of people who believe that music is essential to our community. Your donation supports the work we do, the programs you count on, and the events you enjoy.

Download the App

Download KUVO's FREE app today! The KUVO Public Radio App allows you to take KUVO's music and news with you anywhere, anytime!