August 18, 2006

PGA: Ellington at Newport

PGA: Ellington at Newport

There’s some nice stuff above, but it seems to me that it all could have been obviated if we just listened to an hour of the MUSIC. Why talk about greatness when the greatness is there to be experienced?

joel, in a comment to Open Source

Did we invite the wrong people to appreciate the miracle of Duke Ellington at Newport? Far the most revealing testimonies came uninvited — from Kate McShane, Chris from New Bedford, and Trobador Joel and others on the website: people in different stations who still feel the passion in that spontaneous but not accidental art, as if they were still touching the third rail of music.

On air, though, you surely noticed that all the people taking any responsibility for the event were crabby as hell about it, 50 years later! George Avakian, who commissioned the recording for Columbia and persuaded Duke to repolish the band’s live performance in studio, could not let go of his resentment at Sony’s new liner notes on the reissued masters. Michael James, Duke’s nephew, is still angry that impresario George Wein tried to cut off the concert at 2 a.m. when it might have been headed to mayhem. Wein in his autobiography abases himself before Duke’s wiser judgment of the crowd and the art that was still to pour out of the band. Neither did Michael James want to speak directly with Stanley Crouch, whose interpretations of the Ellington canon are no longer deemed entirely orthodox. And Stanley Crouch didn’t come armed to argue the larger implications of Jazz and Swing culture, as Shaman had outlined them.

In the broadcast booth we thought WGBH’s Eric Jackson was the generous star of a somehow inadequate conversation. Duke Ellington had kissed him on both cheeks when he was a kid! And he could still speak about the man and the music without entangling his own ego in the story. The music, as it always does, spoke for itself.

Here’s our favorite comment from last night’s thread:

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 18 years old 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.

On that night I was 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 exitement of the actual concert.

Over the last fifty years my tastes have changed. I am more into folk music and new age. But Ellington still represents the peak of musical perfection.

chrisnb, in a comment to Open Source, August 17, 2006.

And this, which Joel Cohen emailed to Chris last night:

Chris, I am loving this program as it is going on via my FM tuner.

I had the enormous good fortune of meeting Ellington backstage at Newport, about an hour before his history making set and the famous Paul Gonsalves solo. I was a socially immature fourteen and I watched him charm into helplessness the middle-aged, Jewish-liberal lesbian lady whose charge I was. “Well, I could never have imagined,??? said the Duke, “that my good friend Judge Handel had such an elegant, magnificently beautiful daughter,??? he crooned to her before offering me his signature on the Festival program book. Wide-eyed, I took all of this in and filed it away for future reflection.

I must have 15 Ellington CD’s in my collection, but oddly enough not the Newport concert. I think the near-riot in the audience must have scared me — I was only a little kid after all. Now after your show I have to acquire that one too.

I guess along with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen, Ellington ties as the most powerful musical personality I ever managed to encounter.

But neither of those two French worthies ever gave me a lesson in how to seduce a pretty woman….

Joel Cohen, in an email to Open Source, August 17, 2006.

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