Monday, July 21, 2008

IF YOU THINK YOU LIKE MUSIC FESTIVALS, CHECK THIS ONE OUT.


I've been constantly amazed by everything I read about the whole 'music festival' phenomenon in the UK, a couple of weeks ago there was an article in the G. with a list of those that were happening this summer that to me were unbelievable, there were possibly hundreds of events charging what seem to me to be exhorbitent prices scheduled outdoors come rain or shine. The pictures published in the G. cause me to wonder re. the sanity of those attending.

'Nuff said about all that, what I wanted to comment on is what was possibly THE ORIGINAL POPULAR MUSIC FESTIVAL, at least I can't think of any that precede it except for some classical events, it's The Newport Jazz Festival held annually in Newport Rhode Island, it's been held annually since 1954. There was an interesting film made about it in 1958, it features a who's who of jazz talent and is intercut with shots of the America's Cup sailboat races which were happening just offshore, it's called Jazz on a Summer's Day, it was directed by Bert Stern.

Specifically I want to deal with just one year, 1956, one band, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, playing just one tune, Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue. It should have been a shoe in last week. Duke's popularity was in decline as was that of all the big bands in the mid '50's but George Wein, the event producer invited him to bring the band to Newport and it became an historic occasion.
In 1938 Duke wrote two short pieces to be played separately, Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, for this event however he arranged for the tenor sax soloist with the band, Paul Gonsalves, to play a solo in the interval between the pieces, he told Paul to play as long as he felt comfortable.
Duke introduced the piece and led in on the piano, the band picked it up and it started to swing and then at about the four minute point Paul began his solo, very tentatively at first but gaining confidence as he played. He started to swing like mad and the audience was caught up in the excitement of the moment, what should have been a 5-6 minute piece was suddenly being stretched by the amazing tenor sax solo with the band members and Paul Gonsalves playing as they'd never played before, the audience was going nuts! George Wein sensing the possibility of a riot can be heard offstage telling Duke to end the piece, to shut it down but Duke looks the other way and the band takes it up to another level all the while with Paul still soloing. Finally he puts his horn down and the baton is picked up by Cat Anderson, the high note trumpet soloist who does nothing to ease the tension as it builds to a climax. When it finishes the audience erupts, there's a roaring, cheering and shouting that at the time went on for about 7 minutes, on the record it's shortened considerably. The entire event was broadcast live world-wide on The Voice of America with Willis Connover as the host, it was also recorded by Columbia records, I listened to VOA on my headphones in my bedroom in Suffolk.
Duke's picture was on the cover of the next issue of Time Magazine and his fortunes changed at that moment but....

Columbia realised before the concert ended that the mic that Paul Gonsalves was playing into was not on, he was being picked up on an adjacent mic but not clearly. What to do, they had a million seller on their hands and they couldn't use it. The concert was on the Saturday evening so they had Duke bring the orchestra to New York first thing Monday morning and they re-recorded it entirely in the studio and then mixed in the audience reaction from the live recording and released it as 'Live at Newport!' And then some years later when stereo had hit someone found the Voice of America recording in a cupboard, [with a good solo mic] so they were able to combine both versions to create a stereo version.

I have the original vinyl recording titled 'Ellington at Newport' and the updated double CD version which is titled 'Ellington at Newport' with the word 'complete' printed rather obscurely. If you want the full story of this event get the 'complete' version.

OK, so after that long winded into, put on the headphones, sit back and enjoy one of the all time great sax solos, Paul Gonsalves for about 13 minutes at Newport 1956.

8 comments:

nilpferd said...

Thanks GF, it was interesting to hear that. Regarding epic jazz solos, I recently got a Charlie Christian album with his own "greatest jazz solo" performance of swing to bop, recorded in 1941- a sample of it here-
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLz4vYCW97Y
Greatest live tenor solos? I can remember a horribly cheap cassette tape I once had with a recording of the Miles Davis quintet in Stockholm in 1960, around the time that John Coltrane was getting more abstract, with an awesome version of "all blues".. the most wonderful tenor playing I've seen live would probably have been from Michael Brecker in the late 90's, performing his album Tales from the Hudson.

goneforeign said...

Thanks Nilp. I need to hear more Michael Brecker , what I've heard I like but somehow he passed me by and I didn't discover him 'til he was dead.
I've got a couple of Charlie Christian's which I like, I'll check your link.

nilpferd said...

Tales of the Hudson is a great way to access Brecker, he was really awesome throughout the nineties when he was in a pure jazz setting. Another standout album is Wide Angles, which has some great arrangements for a quindectet.
http://www.vervemusicgroup.com/artist/releases/default.aspx?pid=10831&aid=2703
I didn't like his last album Pilgrimage so much, although it got picked by the Guardian for their '1000 albums to hear..' list.

goneforeign said...

What the hell is a 'quindectet'? 15?
I know that a dodecahedron has 12 sides...

nilpferd said...

right, 15.. so if they were playing in a dodecahedral hall, there'd be 1 and a quarter sides for every instrument..

nilpferd said...

I meant to say, instruments for every side.. (lucky Abahachi's on holiday..)

Mr DNA said...

"dodecahedral hall"

A dodecathedral, perhaps…

nilpferd said...

You're a man of many facets, Mr. DNA..