Ellington at Newport

COMPOSERS: Duke Ellington
LABELS: Columbia/Legacy
WORKS: Ellington at Newport
PERFORMER: Duke Ellington (p) with his Orchestra.
CATALOGUE NO: C2K 64932 ADD Reissue

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When Duke Ellington played the final set of the Newport Jazz Festival on Saturday 7 July 1956 he not only rejuvenated his flagging career but created one of jazz’s great live recordings.

Linking two pieces he had composed and recorded almost 20 years before, ‘Diminuendo in Blue’ and ‘Crescendo in Blue’, with a long tenor saxophone solo by Paul Gonsalves, he electrified the huge crowd whose excitement steadily reached fever pitch, a Cup Final roar that seems to engulf the performance and still communicates across the decades.

Columbia Records rush-released this memorable performance and within months it became Ellington’s best selling record, a fixture in the catalogues ever since. Frustratingly, Gonsalves’s masterly solo was recorded slightly off-mike, the saxophonist mistaking a broadcast mike for the recording mike, but fans learnt to live with such imperfections, even convincing themselves it added to the recording’s charm.

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Now, historian Phil Schaap has tracked down the broadcast that places Gonsalves centre stage, reilluminating this moment in history in vastly improved sound, which also reveals how Columbia re-recorded other moments from the concert and passed them off with fake applause. At last, we have this concert as it really was. A great recording has suddenly become greater still. Stuart Nicholson