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Duke Ellington: Ellington at Newport 1956 (Complete)

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A significant addition to Ellington’s latter day recordings, this double-disc release presents for the first time in true stereo every note that the band played at Newport over that famous weekend of July 7/8, 1956. Moreover, it also includes the performances recorded in studio on July 9, with dubbed-in canned applause, simulated live ambiance, reverb, and recreated announcements, that the world was led to believe was the true Ellington at Newport. Indeed, the mono LP that many of us grew up on was only in part an accurate documentation of the live event, the entire three-part “Newport Jazz Festival Suite” and Johnny Hodges’ feature on “I Got It Bad” having been either studio performances masqueraded as the real thing or the result of post-production patchwork. The true story of this 43-year-long deceit can now be pieced together, however contradictorily, by comparing reissue producer/annotator Phil Schaap’s explanation with the personal account told this writer by George Avakian, who was present at both the concert and the studio in his capacity as Columbia’s jazz A&R man and producer of the original LP. To Avakian’s clear recall, it was not Columbia that decided to re-record these selections because of faulty recording balance. Rather, it was Duke himself who wanted the band to have another chance at presenting itself in the best possible light. Certainly, anyone hearing Johnny Hodges’ twice-flawed attempts at executing his famous ascending scoops on “I Got It Bad” would understand why both the altoist and Duke would have wanted the live version corrected for release.

The best news about this new release is that, owing to the synchronization of the simultaneously recorded, and only recently discovered, Voice of America tapes with those in Columbia’s vaults, we now have the complete concert in properly balanced stereo (or, more accurately, spatially separated alternative mono), inclusive of the previously unreleased “Star Spangled Banner,” a wonderful “Black and Tan Fantasy” (with Cat Anderson, Russell Procope, and Quentin Jackson), “Tea for Two” (a jam feature for trumpeter Willie Cook), and Ray Nance’s “Take the ‘A’ Train.” Disc One continues with the live version of “Newport Jazz Festival Suite” (“Festival Junction,” “Blues to Be There,” and “Newport Up”), Harry Carney’s “Sophisticated Lady,” a vocal by Jimmy Grissom on “Day In, Day Out,” and the one and only Paul Gonsalves marathon treatment of the solo “interval” on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.” To hear this classic performance in stereo, with Duke’s and the band members’ shouts of encouragement, Jo Jones’ offstage rhythmic promptings, and the rising enthusiasm of the audience, is alone worth the price of admission. Also note the contrast between the audience’s indifferent response to Gonsalves’ name during the opening credits and their reaction to him after his breathtaking 27-chorus solo.

Disc Two picks up with Hodges’ “feet of clay” glissandos on “I Got It Bad” and then proceeds into his masterful performance on “Jeep’s Blues.” (A previously unused but excellent studio take of this number appears as the final track.) Other concert performances included here are Ray Nance’s “Tulip or Turnip,” Sam Woodyard’s drum feature on “Skin Deep,” and a closing “Mood Indigo,” all of which precede the reissue of the studio tracks used for the original LP, including Hodges’ “improvements” on “I Got It Bad.” For longtime Ellington collectors this is a must-buy, while for newcomers this concert will serve as a dramatic example of how, in this one moment of time, the band pulled itself out of a ten-year slump to once again resume its rightful position as the world’s greatest jazz orchestra.