Ellington at Newport is a 1956 live Jazz album by Duke Ellington and his band of their 1956 concert at the Newport jazz Festival, a concert which revitalized Ellington’s flagging career. Jazz promoter George Wein describes the 1956 concert as “the greatest performance of [Ellington’s] career… It stood for everything that jazz had been and could be.” It is included in the book “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” which ranks it “one of the most famous… in Jazz history”. The original release of The Ellington’s Orchestra performance was largely recreated in the studio after its festival appearance.

When Duke Ellington took his orchestra to the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956, the band was in need of uplift, some humongous event that would revitalize its image in the wake of bebop, hard bop, and so many more Jazz currents. Ellington got the lift he needed when he called “Diminuendo in Blue” with set-closer “Crescendo in Blue” tacked on the end. Tenor saxophonist Paul Gonzales got the nod from Ellington to segue from “Diminuendo” to “Crescendo,” and he blew the doors off the joint. With one rousing 27-chorus solo, Gonzales blew a fever into the crowd and jump-started Ellingtonia for another generation. Trouble with all this is that the living document of the Newport show is almost fully manufactured, recorded in a studio with crowd madness dubbed in!

Many big bands had folded by the mid-1950s, but Duke kept his band working, occasionally doing shows in ice-skating rinks to stay busy. The Duke Ellington Orchestra had done some European tours during the early 1950s, and Duke was chiefly supporting the band himself through royalties earned on his popular compositions of the 1920s to 1940s. At the time of the festival, the band did not even have a record deal.

Image result for images ellington big band             Image result for images of duke ellington

The producers revisited the Newport gig after four decades because they discovered an extant Voice of America tape–the one whose microphone Gonzales blew his solo into, and the VOA tape captured the whole Newport set in its organic glory. Alternately tender with layers of brushstroke orchestration and blazing with the band’s well-seasoned tightness, this new Newport is one for all that enjoy live improvised Jazz and big band performances.  It’s got the revived original gig as well as the original commercial release. And they make great siblings, illustrative of the live-event charm and the music industry’s dogged labors in reinventing it on record

Many big bands had folded by the mid-1950s, but Duke kept his band working, occasionally doing shows in ice-skating rinks to stay busy. The Duke Ellington Orchestra had done some European tours during the early 1950s, and Duke was chiefly supporting the band himself through royalties earned on his popular compositions of the 1920s to 1940s. At the time of the festival, the band did not even have a record deal.

Duke and his orchestra arrived to play at the Newport Jazz Festival at a time when Jazz festivals were a fairly new innovation. Ellington’s band was the first and last group to play at the Newport Festival. This set was played without a few of the band’s members as they were unable to be found at the start of the show. I’ll leave you to speculate as to where they might have been….

In the second set, Ellington called for some familiar chestnuts as well as new suite, entitled Festival Suite that was to be the “showstopper.” However, the reception was not as warm as he had hoped.

Duke then called for Harry Carney’s baritone saxophone performance of the Ellington classic, “Sophisticated Lady”. Then the orchestra played “Day In, ay Out.”  He felt he was losing the crowd’s attention so following that, Duke announced that they were pulling out “some of our 1938 vintage material”: “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” joined by an improvised interval, which Duke announced would be played by tenor saxophonist Paul Gonzales.

Ellington is believed to have told Gonzales to blow as long as he felt like blowing when the solo slot came. It came after two choruses of an Ellington piano break at what was formerly the conclusion of “Diminuendo in Blue.”

As performed at Newport, the experiment ended up revamping the Ellington reputation and fortune for the rest of Ellington’s life. The performance culminated in a 27-chorus solo by Gonzales — simple, but powerful — backed only by  a bassist a, drummer, and Ellington himself pounding punctuating piano chords and (with several audible band members as well) hollering urgings-on (“Come on, Paul — dig in! Dig in!”) to his soloist.

The normally sedate crowd was on their feet dancing in the aisles, reputedly provoked by a striking platinum blonde woman in a black evening dress, Elaine Anderson, getting up and dancing enthusiastically.

When the solo ended and Gonzales collapsed in exhaustion, Ellington himself took over for two choruses of piano solo before the full band returned for the “Crescendo in Blue” portion, finishing with a rousing finale featuring high-note trumpeter Cat Anderson.

After that performance, pandemonium took over with the audience demanding more and more… Duke calmed the crowd by announcing, “If you’ve heard of the saxophone, then you’ve heard of Johnny Hodges” Duke’s best known alto saxophonist then played two of his most famous numbers in “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good”,  followed by “Jeep’s Blues”.

Still the crowd refused to disperse so Duke called for Ray Nance to sing “Tulip or Turnip”. The festival’s organizers tried to cut off the show at this point but once again were met with angry refusals to end the evening.
Duke told the announcer that he would end the show and wanted to thank the audience but instead announced he had a “very heavy request for Sam Woodyard in ‘Skin Deep'”, a number written by former Ellington drummer Louis Bellson. This drum solo feature was the final number featured, followed by a farewell from Duke over “Mood Indigo”. In his farewell, he thanked the crowd for the “wonderful way in which you’ve inspired us this evening.” He then finished with his trademark statement, “You are very beautiful, very sweet and we do love you madly.” With that, the historic show concluded.

Much later on, In 1996, a tape discovered in the Voice of America’s archive of its radio broadcasts revealed that the 1956 album had indeed been fabricated with studio performances mixed with some live recordings and artificial applause. Only about 40% of the 1956 recording was actually live.] The reason for this was that Ellington felt the under-rehearsed Festival Suite had not been performed up to recording release standards, and he wished to have a better version on tape if it was to be issued on record.

On the 1999 reissue, the VoA live recording and live Columbia tapes were painstakingly pieced together using digital technology to create a stereophonic recording of the most well-known Ellington performance of the past fifty years, this time with Gonsalves’ solo clearly heard, though the beginning of the audience cheering and noise at around the seventh or eighth chorus of the solo can still be heard as well.

 

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