Ellington At Newport

Duke Ellington

It's worth remembering that, whatever the excesses, law-breaking or general high-living normally associated with rock, jazz generally got there first. Sex, drugs and degeneracy, all well documented, my favourite book on the subject being Bird Lives.

So, if you thought that riots at gigs didn't happen until The Beatles, well think again. This concert, Duke Ellington playing at Newport in 1956, went so well that the audience wouldn't let it end and had to be calmed by the Duke himself and placated with several extra songs.

And if you thought that fabricating a live album was the province of something like Thin Lizzy's Live And Dangerous, well, sadly, Ellington At Newport proves that wrong too. It turns out the five-track album was predominantly a studio concoction. The concert did happen and it was recorded - just not released until over forty years later.

My fifties music project isn't concerned with such trivia though. The original album is a classic, and that's good enough for me. This is one of my favourite discoveries so far - all five tracks are gems. It's the epitome of swing and big band music.

On "Festival Junction" you can hear the train starting out, gathering speed and then riding the rails out through the night. "Blues To Be There" has not one, but two false endings. The first (~ 4'30") is followed by some delicious piano chords before restating the theme; the second (~ 6'20") deceives the crowd enough to have them clapping, before the horn section comes back in with a gorgeous big band riff. "Newport Up" is a faster, slightly more generic jazz track and my least favourite of the five. "Jeeps Blues" is sultry, late night listening. And "Diminuendo In Blue and Crescendo In Blue" is a jazz tour-de-force, combining tightly arranged big band music with small band improvisation, notably the legendary 27-chorus saxophone solo by Paul Gonsalves (full disclosure: I'd never heard of it until I read about it in 1001 Albums ... and on Wikipedia).

The complete concert is interesting listening, although possibly a little too much of a good thing for me. I love the original album though, great stuff.

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