196 of 201 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2002
This is a remarkable, historic release--a 1999 restoration of the classic 1956 Ellington Newport album which includes Paul Gonsalves' famous 27-chorus solo on "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue". Yet I find it hard to disentangle the rights & wrongs of this release.
First, the rights. The original release of the Gonsalves solo was badly flawed because it was played off-mike. Or so it was thought: in fact it turned out that Gonsalves had simply picked the wrong mike, which was hooked up to the Voice of America broadcast of the concert rather than the Columbia engineers' equipment. The VOA tapes were recovered, & engineer Phil Schaap has created a highly acceptable stereo mix by running the VOA recording in one channel, the Columbia recording in the other.
Columbia tried to get the Ellington band to secretly rerecord the entire disc in the studio. They did so, & the majority of the original LP was a studio recreation, with canned applause. Ellington angrily balked at forcing Gonsalves to recreate his original solo, however, & so the version of "Diminuendo and Crescendo" on the LP was indeed the flawed live version. (In addition, the LP included the live version of "Jeep's Blues", & spliced in Ray Nance's live solo on the "Festival Suite" to the studio rerecording. The rest of the LP was the studio recording, including faked emcee banter & announcements.)
So, this is an invaluable, almost miraculous restoration of the original 1956 Newport set; as an appendix, the studio session is included at the end. Yet my verdict would be mixed on whether the new version "improves" the old album. The verdict would be a resounding "Yes!" for the centrepiece of the album: "Diminuendo...". But what about the rest?
Well, the album starts bathetically enough. Four members of the band went AWOL before the planned start time for the set, & Ellington took the stage, played "The Star-Spangled Banner", "Black & Tan Fantasy" & "Tea of Two" with the partial band before giving up & aborting the set. Once the truant members had arrived, they returned to the attack with "Take the 'A' Train", before moving immediately to "Festival Suite". This was new music, written with Ellington's usual haste & clearly underrehearsed: the live performance is acceptable but has a lot of flubs, & in general the later studio version of these tracks is my preference. The rest of the concert is rather a ragbag--a nice "Sophisticated Lady", a rather annoying vocal number, "Day In Day Out", a couple numbers for Hodges ("I Got It Bad..." features a rare goof from him on the opening phrase--they thus rerecorded this piece in the studio too, though it wasn't on the original 1956 LP), the throwaway novelty number "Tulip or Turnip", a drum feature for Sam Woodyard called "Skin Deep", & the closing cooler "Mood Indigo". What the restoration of the concert largely reveals is that EXCEPT for "Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue" this wasn't an especially remarkable concert. The flood of extra material, in other words, considerably dilutes the impact of the album. & also, the inclusion of every jot & tittle of the announcements & crowd noise & whatnot from the original concert further slackens the pace--do we really need _all_ of this? (By my count, there's about 12 minutes' worth of this "atmosphere" included among the live tracks.)
I feel rather guilty about giving this less than a 5-star rating, consideringly that this is an album with one of the greatest recorded solos in jazz. But I rather wish that Columbia had put out, in addition to this complete edition of the event & the studio sessions, a one-CD condensation that would appeal more to the casual listener. Sometimes less _is_ more.
51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2000
This re-issue of the Ellington set from the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival is simply the greatest jazz concert ever recorded. Recovering from the 'canned' studio concert which was originally released, this 2-CD set was painstakingly assembled from 2 complete (but unique) mono tape recordings that were originally set aside as 'flawed' and unusable by themselves. One recording from the Columbia microphones and one recording recently discovered from the Voice of America microphones. Upon assembling using modern digital technology, the result is the most amazing live (TRUE) Stereo recording you will ever hear. I have owned this CD for nearly a year and can still listen to it again and again, never tiring of its immense impact, musical genius and state of the art (full frequency!) audio quality. This is REQUIRED listening for any Ellington fan. This is a living, breathing document to seal Ellington in his place as the greatest Jazz icon of the 20th Century. If you listen closely, you will be astounded at the ambiance of this release, whispers and even the delay of the Newport sound system's own monitor speakers echoing through the crowd can be heard...SIMPLY BEAUTIFUL.
45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2000
In the 1950s an aging Duke Ellington was floundering in the shifting currents of popular music. The emergence of bebop, cool jazz, and rock-and-roll made Ellington's big band stylings seem dated. Younger musicians scorned him; critics panned him; and audiences ignored him. But the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival gave Ellington his shot at redemption, and he took full advantage of the opportunity. With the world of jazz gathered at his feet, Ellington delivered a masterful performance that awed critics and musicians alike, and sent the audience of 7000 into a riotous frenzy. By skillfully blending rejuvenated versions of old standards (Black and Tan Fantasy, Take the A Train, Sophisticated Lady) with breathtaking new material (Newport Jazz Festival Suite), Ellington both reestablished his jazz credentials and proved his continuing vitality. And then he unleashed Diminuendo in Blue/Crescendo in Blue. For 14 transcendent minutes, Ellington rode the wild musical currents that had been threatening to drown him, and channeled them into a raging torrent that swept away the criticism, scorn, and indifference that he had endured for most of the 1950s. The band rocked wildly and swung subtly. They screeched loudly and moaned softly. They snarled obscenely and purred lovingly. And holding all of this together was a stunning, six minute sax solo by Paul Gonsalves that literally blew apart the phony barriers between jazz, blues, and rock-and-roll.
Columbia quickly released "Ellington at Newport" to capitalize on the Duke's success. But much of this supposedly live album was actually recorded in a studio two days after the Newport performance, complete with canned applause and spoken song introductions for the nonexistent audience. Some of the actual Newport performance made it onto "Ellington at Newport," but it too was dressed up with phony studio overdubs.
"Ellington at Newport 1956 (Complete)" gives jazz fans a chance to finally hear the Newport performance in its entirety, and without studio fakery. Columbia has married its original recording of the event to another recording made by Voice of America to produce a vibrant stereo mix that reveals previously hidden layers of nuance and detail. It's a technical marvel that provides a deeper look into the soul of America's greatest composer at his moment of deepest desperation and supreme triumph. No Ellington fan should be without this.
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2001
You do not have to be much of a jazz fan or an Ellington fan to recognize this is one of the most exciting live performances ever recorded. Huge kudos to Columbia Legacy for producing the original recordings of the entire 1956 performance -- if you listen to the studio mock ups (included on Disc 2) that previously passed for the Newport concert, you can appreciate how this album went from patchwork disaster to, in its current form, absolute nirvana.
The songs are especially well chosen -- from Black and Tan Fantasy, to Take the A Train, to Mood Indigo and Skin Deep, these are some of the best of the best. As great as the songs are, the performances will really make you up sit up and listen. Johnny Hodges, Willie Cook, Clark Terry, Cat Anderson and especially Paul Gonsalves with his legendary solo turn in the performances of a lifetime. Ellington's piano is characteristically brilliant.
A big surprise: recording quality is exceptional for a live performance from 45 years ago -- and in stereo, nonetheless (1956 was very early for commercial stereo). I heard only a few places where microphone placement could have been a bit better, but this stands head and shoulders above much of what was recorded in that era.
One minor suggestion: while I admire Columbia's completeness in retaining the old studio-doctored tracks, and applaud the extensive liner notes (five stars in themself), I would have been happy to have only the original concert -- the rest is just a document of how overzealous studio teams could ruin something that was perfect to start. This is really nitpicking, though. Maybe it is important to document what happened, as well as the happy ending.
If you even think that you kind of might like jazz even slightly, or if you are new to Duke Ellington, I would strongly and urgently recommend this album as a starting point. This recording could stand alone as an homage to one of America's national treasures.
You need this album.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
In 1956, Duke Ellington's career had taken a downturn. Swing was very old music, no longer well accepted, and many relics of the big band era had already disappeared. Ellington maintained his orchestra, but with several key members of the band coming and going and gigs getting leaner, things were not looking good for the future.
It was into this environment that Ellington arrived at the Newport Jazz Festival that July, and the performance is the stuff of legend. Ellington's set was reasonably well received, then during the bridge linking "Diminuendo in Blue" to "Crescendo in Blue", Paul Gonsalves stood up for his tenor solo. Gonsalves, younger than the majority of Ellington's musicians and influenced by bebop players, began blowing fiercely, a powerful, evocative, non-linear solo that grabbed everyone's attention and made heads turn. Realizing he had something going on, Ellington signalled Gonsalves to keep playing, chorus after chorus, as the crowd became more and more consumed by the music. When the piece was finally done (a nearly fourteen minute performance, the majority of which consumed by Gonsalves' solo, unheard of in swing music), the crowd was positively frenzied and Ellington came out for several encores designed to calm them down.
On the strength of this performance and a cover appearance in Time Magazine, Ellington was suddenly a hot commodity, signed a deal with Columbia, and "Ellington at Newport" became his biggest selling record of all time.
So is Paul Gonsalves' solo really that good? Well, yes, it is. He plays magnificantly, and while it's clear he's starting to run out of steam when Duke finally lets him go, the truth is that this is what makes Ellington so powerful-- he can bring forth performances from musicians that can whip a crowd into a frenzy. Truth is, there's powerful solos from any number of musicians, and I suspect had Ellington seen a crowd reaction when any of them were playing, he could have gotten the same reaction, be it Quentin Jackson's growling ("Black and Tan Fantasy"), Willie Cook (stunningly melodic and inventive on "Tea for Two"), the leader himself at the piano ("Take the A Train"), Cat Anderson's pyrotechnics ("Festival Junction") or Johnny Hodges' lyricism ("Jeep's Blues"). The crowd IS practically frenzied after Anderson takes off to the stratosphere at the end of "Festival Junction". And I don't mean this to take away from Gonsalves-- his solo really is something to behold, but it's Ellington's arrangements and inspiration that's the star here.
So what is this set? It's a chance to see a master bandleader at the top of his form, playing his orchestra as an instrument, and inspiring them to in turn inspire him.
This reissue is particularly exciting as it is the first to include the original sessions-- evidentally the tape was damaged and couldn't be salvaged in the '50s and parts of the performance were a bit less than perfect, so parts of the show were re-recorded, complete with artificial crowd noise and announcements (in many cases, the rerecordings are far superior to the less than perfect live performances, as one would suspect, but they lose some of the immediacy). This release includes the original concert from a newly found tape and some of the studio sessions augmenting it as bonus material. The sound is letter-perfect throughout-- this could have been recorded yesterday at a jazz festival and you'd scarcely hear the difference. The set also includes extensive liner notes, including the original notes included with the set and new essays and session details.
In the end, this is one of the essential jazz recordings, certainly it's a fantastic introduction to Ellington's material and work, and it's among the best of his recordings. Highly recommended.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2001
When I decided to review this set, I took along several ideas, some of which have been adequately covered by other reviewers, but I think I can add some additional perspective.
There are only a few tracks I've ever heard in Jazz that approach the power and intensity of "Diminuendo/Crescendo in Blue" (Louis Armstrong's "Stardust", Miles Davis' "All Blues", Coltrane's "My Favorite Things", Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder") come to mind), but to simply say that does not do the performance justice. Now, it's obvious that Gonsalves' solo is the glue holding it together, and that can be analyzed on its own merits (the fact that he held on for 27 choruses - over 10 minutes - is notable in of itself, but the way the intensity keeps building makes you want to play the track again and again), yet the credit goes to the Duke for conceiving of the idea of using a sax solo in the first place (where previously he had played the interval on piano), and for leading it off with some swinging piano. Over 14 minutes in total, the track simply rocks (if I may use such heresy!). Particularly notable is the understated way in which Ellington introduces the track - giving absolutely no hint of the fireworks to come.
But one would be truly remiss to ignore or overlook the rest of this fine two-disc set, which sets a mood from beginning to end. The fine and voluminous liner notes (2 sets) adequately detail what went on that particular July evening in Newport as well as the remarkable story behind the making of this set (alluded to above in the commentary). The fact that Duke and his band had a break of a few hours in the middle of their set probably lent a harder edge to the performances when they returned to the stage with "Take the A Train" (a particularly spirited rendition of the classic). From there, things only got more interesting as Duke introduced his newly-written 3-part "Festival Suite". This band plays like it had something to prove, and prove it they did.
There are many fine moments available here, and each one who listens will probably claim her/his own favorites, but I enjoyed "Tea for Two" and "Tulip or Turnip" along with the selections I listed above. This is a large investment for the music buyer as a two-disc set, but let me add my voice to the chorus: if you need to be introduced to the music of the Duke (and get an idea of what he was all about), if you want to own a true musical milestone in the history of Jazz, or simply want to hear a band "blowing it out", look NO further.
You've arrived at Ellingtonia in all its majesty!
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2000
WOW! This was one of the most eagerly anticipated releases in the history of recorded jazz, and it doesn't disappoint. This is the Duke et al. at their finest, and they sizzle and swing in all the right places. Considering the wealth of excellent songs available on this album (such as the now infamous Diminuendo In Blue & Crescendo In Blue, Black & Tan Fantasy, Take The A Train, Jeep's Blues, the Newport Festival Suite and more) there is plenty to satisfy both the casual listener looking to take a first step into the world of Ellington and the seasoned collector looking to upgrade the decidely low-fi previously released incarnation of this show. (Because this album has been created from two seperate recording sources mixed together, the result is an unparalled richness and depth unheard of from other releases from this era.) This album is a must have for anyone who appreciates music!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2004
'Ellington At Newport' turned out to be the best-selling album of the Duke's career largely due to the exceptional performances of the soloists on the album. But Ellington's compositions always gave great scope for improvisation by his band and it's his own enthusiasm and momentum that spurred the band on to great things that night.
On 'Black & Tan Fantasy' Cat Anderson's solo is a throwback to the era in which it was composed, while Willie Cook on 'Tea For Two' swings unstoppable. Ellington himself puts in some spirited piano playing at the beginning of 'Take The A Train' and 'Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue'. 'Festival Junction' is an inspired name for the opening part of the festival suite as it builds and builds in its thumping and sophisticated way, much like the rest of the concert. Then a slight respite with Russell Procopej's lilting clarinet on 'Blues To Be There', before back to the frenetic pace of the earlier part with 'Newport Up'. Here the notes and tempo seem to crash and burn against each other in a manner more reminscent of bepop than swing.
The there's the effortless, breezy solo of Harry Carney on 'Sophisticated Lady' and try as he might, poor Jimmy Grisham's vocal on 'Day In, Day Out' just doesn't match the power and sincerity of the backing instrumentation.
On Paul Gonsalves performance of his career, the rest of the band aren't slow in egging him on to greater and greater heights through enthusiastic shouts and claps. This appreciative support seems oddly lacking in the other soloists performances. After the riotous greeting of this number, Ellington seems to use Johnny Hodges laid-back playing on 'I Got It Bad' and 'Jeep's Blues' as a way of quietening the crowd. Ray Nance does slightly better than Grisham's earlier performance, with his satchmo-singing on 'Tulip or Turnip' before Sam Woodyard whips the crowd into a frenzy again with his remarkable drum soloing on 'Skin Deep'.
His riot control complete, Ellingtion slips away under the auspicies of 'Mood Indigo'.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2002
Ellington CD's are ubiquitous. Shucking through the good ones to find the real standouts can waste a lot of time and money. This one is a stand out, maybe THE stand out. If you want to attend an Ellington concert this side of the resurrection, buy this CD. It really has a "you are there" quality that has to be heard to be believed. These are real people in real time; Duke cheering Gonsalves to keep holding the long note near the end; the argument with the manager to "just let me tell them goodnight" that leads to another set of music; Woodyard's adrenaline draining solo that subdues the crowd -all are priceless. You are swept up in the momentum and drive of the band. This is emotional stuff for them and us. How the stereo re-mix was created is a wonder unto itself. The liner notes reveal all, and help in recreating that night at Newport. All things considered, the engineers have worked a miracle. If you are reading this review, then you already love Ellington. By all means then, buy this CD. You will not be let down by it.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2006
In the reviews that I read (not all), I did not see a mention of what an excellent job Columbia did in the remastering. I owned the LP when it was first issued and it has been a lifelong favorite; so it was a very pleasant surprise to hear how much the sound was improved on this release. (The whole series of recent Columbia remasterings is excellent.)
A legendary performance? Oh yeahhh, the missing Voice of America tape, Philly Jo Jones driving the band (apocryphally) with a rolled up newspaper, and the Dancing Blonde In The Black Dress who got the crowd on their feet and roaring during the Gonsalves solo. The Time cover, and the renaissance of the band. And a performance that easily supports the weight of the legends...
The format of this release, complete and with the studio recordings appended, is very interesting; it corrects and completes the historical record. It's good to hear the studio recordings, now seeming oversmooth and plump, in comparison to the real thing.
I consider it an essential recording.