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ESSENTIALS: Ellington At Newport 1956

albumcoverEllingtonAtNewportBy the mid-1950s many of the big bands had folded. Jazz music had been brought to its knees by the explosion of rock ‘n roll – Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Elvis.  In addition, jazz was going through a radical change. The traditional swing big bands were being usurped by the harder-edged Be Bop and smooth West Coast Cool schools of music.

Duke Ellington had managed to financially keep his band together through the royalties of his popular compositions in the 1920s and 40s. They occasionally played shows at ice-skating rinks. In 1956 Ellington did not even have a recording contract.

On the night of July 7, 1956 at the Newport Jazz Festival, after a series of thunderstorms had dampened the collective spirits of the Eastern Seaboard patrons, The Duke Ellington Orchestra took the stage. Ellington paid for the performance to be recorded out of his own pocket.

Ellington at Newport 1956 was to become Ellington’s biggest selling recording, although only about 40% of the original recording was actually live. The remainder was recorded in the studio to provide “patches” and filler for the less than perfect live portions.

Ellington Orchestra on the Newport stage

Ellington Orchestra on the Newport stage

During the concert the Duke announced that they were pulling out “some of our 1938 vintage.” It was a pair of blues, “Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue.” The two songs were to be joined by an improvised interval played by tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves. Ellington had been experimenting and reworking the songs for several years before the Newport performance. The night of the show, Ellington told Gonsalves to “blow as long as you feel like blowing.”

As performed at Newport, the new version kick-started Ellington’s waning career and secured the band financially for the rest of Ellington’s life. Gonsalves played a 27-chorus solo backed only by bassist Jimmy Woode, drummer Sam Woodyard, and Ellington himself punctuating piano chords. Through-out the song there are several audible comments from the band members. The Duke himself is often heard urging the saxophonist, shouting “Come on, Paul — dig in! Dig in!” About five minutes into Gonsalves’ solo, the sedate wine-and-cheese crowd realized they were witnessing a magical moment. They started dancing in the aisles and can be heard cheering and shouting at the band.

The usually sedate wine-and-cheese crowd at Newport dancing to Gonsalves' solo

The usually sedate wine-and-cheese crowd at Newport dancing to Gonsalves’ solo

When the solo ended Gonsalves collapsed in exhaustion, and the full band returned for the “Crescendo in Blue” portion. The real crescendo of “Crescendo in Blue” however starts at the 13:15 minute mark, as trumpet player Cat Anderson (of Charleston, SC) stands up and begins to play several octaves above the Orchestra for the final minute of the song. In a moment worthy of any classic rock concert, the already excited crowd is brought to the edge of hysteria by Anderson’s screaming trumpet. When the song ends, pandemonium ensues for several moments as the Duke tries to quiet the crowd.

Truly one of the most classic recorded moments in jazz history.

“Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue”

Remastered 1999 CD: Ellington at Newport (Complete)

Disc one

  1. “The Star Spangled Banner” – 1:10
  2. Father Norman O’Connor Introduces Duke & the Orchestra / Duke Introduces Tune & Anderson, Jackson & Procope – 3:36
  3. Black and Tan Fantasy” – 6:21
  4. Duke Introduces Cook & Tune – 0:26
  5. “Tea for Two” – 3:34
  6. Duke & Band Leave Stage / Father Norman Talks About The Festival – 2:30
  7. Take the ‘A’ Train” – 4:27
  8. Duke Announces Strayhorn’s A Train & Nance / Duke Introduces Festival Suite, Part I & Hamilton – 0:41
  9. “Part I – Festival Junction” – 8:10
  10. Duke Announces Soloists; Introduces Part II – 0:38
  11. “Part II – Blues to Be There” – 7:09
  12. Duke Announces Nace & Procope; Introduces Part III – 0:19
  13. “Part III – Newport Up” – 5:33
  14. Duke Announces Hamilton, Gonsalves & Terry / Duke Introduces Carney & Tune – 0:25
  15. Sophisticated Lady” – 3:52
  16. Duke Announces Grissom & Tune – 0:17
  17. Day In, Day Out” – 3:50
  18. Duke Introduces Tune(s) and Paul Gonsalves Interludes – 0:23
  19. “Diminuendo In Blue and Crescendo In Blue” – 14:20
  20. Announcements, Pandemonium – 0:44
  21. Pause Track – 0:06

Disc two

  1. Duke Introduces Johnny Hodges – 0:18
  2. “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good)” – 3:38
  3. “Jeep’s Blues” – 4:36
  4. Duke Calms Crowd; Introduces Nance & Tune – 0:42
  5. “Tulip or Turnip” – 2:49
  6. Riot Prevention – 1:08
  7. “Skin Deep” – 9:13
  8. Mood Indigo” – 1:30
  9. Studio Concert (Excerpts) – 4:01
  10. Father Norman O’Connor Introduces Duke Ellington / Duke Introduces New Work, Part I & Hamilton – 1:02
  11. “Part I – Festival Junction” – 8:46
  12. Duke Announces Soloists; Introduces Part II – 0:32
  13. “Part II – Blues To Be There” – 7:48
  14. Duke Announces Nance & Procope; Introduces Part III” – 0:16
  15. “Part III – Newport Up” – 5:20
  16. Duke Announces Hamilton, Gonsalves & Terry / Pause / Duke Introduces Johnny Hodges – 0:41
  17. “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” – 3:47
  18. “Jeep’s Blues” – 4:31
  19. Pause Track – 0:09


  • Piano: Duke Ellington
  • Bass: James Woode
  • Drums: Sam Woodyard
  • Trumpet: Cat Anderson, Clark Terry, John Willie Cook, Ray Nance
  • Trombone: John Sanders, Britt Woodman, Quentin Jackson
  • Alto Sax: Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope
  • Baritone Sax: Harry Carney
  • Tenor Sax: Paul Gonsalves
  • Clarinet: Jimmy Hamilton
  • Voice: Jimmy Grissom             

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