“At Newport [CL 934]” by Duke Ellington - album review

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TJR says

A full 21 years before The Sex Pistols, “Team Ellington” had pulled off the great Jazz ‘n’ Swing Swindle. Live albums were rather desirable, arguably even preferable, back in the day. This critically acclaimed masterpiece was, in actual fact, a great fake. The concert took place on Saturday 7th July but Ellington felt the under-rehearsed “Festival Junction” 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. Producer George Avakian did as Ellington asked and the band entered the studio on Monday 9th July to re-enact the concert. Avakian mixed in the studio version with portions of the live performance. The applause was dubbed onto the original release to cover up the fact that tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves had been playing into the wrong microphone and was often completely inaudible. Only the final piece, “Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue” is genuinely live from Newport. They should have just told the truth – the album, which can be compared with the original concert via excavated tapes, was close enough to the concert anyway and could have easily been described as such in the liner notes.

3 of the albums 5 “sections” were new pieces especially created for the Newport Jazz Festival. It was a concert which was very well received by the fans and critics. 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.” Those Jazz hounds do get carried away. Of the 3 new pieces I quite like “Blues To Be There”, mainly just because I’m biased towards the blues. The last 2 pieces (or Side 2 in old money) are best – and both of these were oldies revisited. “Jeep’s Blues” was a sensual smoker that had originally been recorded by Ellington in 1938 for ARC-Brunswick. This was the debut LP appearance for the track.

The album’s crowning glory is delivered right at the end – with the only genuine “live at Newport” number. The feature “Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue” comprised two tunes that had been in the band’s book since 1937 but largely forgotten until Ellington, who had abruptly ended the band’s scheduled set because of the late arrival of four key players, called the two tunes as the time was approaching midnight. Announcing that the two pieces would be separated by an “interlude” played by tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, Ellington proceeded to lead the band through the two pieces, with Gonsalves’ 27-chorus marathon solo whipping the crowd into a frenzy, leading the maestro to play way beyond the curfew time despite urgent pleas from Festive organizer George Wein to bring the program to an end. It’s a crazy performance – no matter what you’re into it you can get into the spirit of the moment. You could probably even forgive the marketing swindle…

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [10:08] 4.4.png Duke Ellington - Festival Junction [studio ’56] (Edward Ellington, Billy Strayhorn) Jazz
A2 [08:04] 5.5.png Duke Ellington - Blues To Be There [studio ’56] (Edward Ellington, Billy Strayhorn) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
A3 [05:33] 3.4.png Duke Ellington - Newport Up [studio ’56] (Edward Ellington, Billy Strayhorn) Jazz
B1 [05:12] 5.7.png Duke Ellington - Jeep’s Blues [studio ’56] (Edward Ellington, Johnny Hodges) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
B2 [14:56] 7.7.png Duke Ellington - Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue [live ’56] (Edward Ellington) Jazz

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