Eating the Apple

Eve did it. Adam did it. Now it's my turn to take a bite. Why not? Hey! It's delicious.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ellington at Newport + 50 Years

On Aug. 17 Chris Lydon, Radio Open Source did a show on Ellington at Newport. Here is an expanded version of my contribution:

I was there 50 years ago on a warm summer night when Duke Ellington and Paul Gonsalves set the jazz world on fire. I was an 18 year old white kid with an enormous appetite for jazz - it was my obsession. Elvis was too crude for me -- I loved Bird, Satchmo, the MJQ, and the the great swing bands.

I caught the jazz bug from a fan of Satchmo, my dad. But I went on to swing qand bebop. My dad and I went to Symphony Hall in Boston for a concert featuring Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman. Unfortunately, he had a heart attack that day and was unable to appear.

My favorite radio station featu8red rythm and blues, gospel, ad a madern, progressive jazz DJ named Symphony Sid. I do recall Symphony Sid announcing the death of Charlie Parker.

In '55 and '56 I travelled to Newport for the jazz festival. The final night of the '56 festival took place in a baseball park. The infield and outfield were filled with a huge crowd.

That night I sat way out in deep right field 300 feet from the stage, digging the sounds from the master. After the Newport Festival Suite and the marvelous Jeep's Blues, Duke announced the Dimuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue separated by an interval by Paul Gonsalves. After a rocking Dimuendo, Paul Gonsalves started to blow crazy on his tenor sax and lit up the audience. Immediately, the crowd started to yell, to jump up and down waving their hands. The sound of the crowd drowned out the music except for Paul Gonsalves. He blew 27 choruses, with the crowd going wild.

When the Crescendo in Blue finished, the crowd was still wild, shouting more, more! I feared that this could turn into a riot. George Wein came out and talked to Duke. He looked scared. Duke pushed him aside and continued the concert. The band took an hour to cool down the crowd, finishing up with Skin Deep. I thought that Skin Deep would rile up the crowd, but no, Duke judged it correctly. After Skin Deep the crowd left and dispersed peacefully.

Later I got a copy of the album Ellington at Newport. I liked Jeep's Blues the best, but not the Paul Gonsalves solo. The crowd noise was muted, and I could actually hear the rythm section. It lacked the exuberant wildness of the actual concert.

Over the last fifty years my tastes have changed. I am more into folk music and new age. But Ellington, along with Satchmo and Bird, still represents the peak of musical excellance.


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