DUKE ELLINGTON — Ellington At Newport (review)

DUKE ELLINGTON — Ellington At Newport album cover Live album · 1957 · Big Band Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
This review concerns the original version of "Duke Ellington and His Orchestra at Newport", which mostly consists of tracks done in a studio after the concert, with crowd noise added later in an attempt to make people believe they were hearing the actual recording of Ellington's performance at Newport in 1956. The real live recording was finally released in 1999, which makes this previous phony live album somewhat pointless now. If you don't already know the story, this is how all this happened.

Ellington’s performance at Newport in 56 was a smash success that turned around his lagging career and inspired so much enthusiasm that the concert almost ended in a riot of sorts. Eager to get a recording of this concert out to the public, Ellington discovered that the concert recording was marred by sloppy playing, and even worse, key solos had been played into the wrong microphones and barely recorded at all. Quickly Ellington pulled together another rehearsal and had the entire concert re-recorded fresh in the studio, except for the one piece that had gotten the crowd to its feet, “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue”. That one piece had featured a lengthy solo by Paul Gonsalves that Ellington wanted to preserve as is, even though you could barely hear Gonsalves at times because he was pointed towards the wrong mic.

When “Ellington at Newport” hit the shelves in 57, everyone assumed that was an actual recording of the Duke’s big comeback and the story could have ended there, but many decades later, someone miraculously discovered the tapes picked up by the “wrong microphone” (it was for a taping to be played over seas), all of a sudden the original concert was back again. To say this was one of the biggest musicological finds of the 20th century is practically an understatement. Next came the painstaking task of matching the various tapes together, but new developments in digital technology finally allowed the entire concert to be released in fairly good sounding stereo.

So in 1999 the complete “Ellington at Newport” was released with the entire 56 concert intact, as well as Ellington’s studio remake of the concert that had been the original album. Its fun to compare the two versions, the studio recording is tighter and more polished, but the live recording has so much energy and raw enthusiasm. Some sloppiness in the live recording is pretty bad, such as Johnny Hodges mangled opening note glide on “I Got it Bad”, but overall, the live recordings have more life than the studio ones.

Since the expanded complete version also contains the studio recordings that were used for the fake live album, is there any point in owning the original album at all. Possibly the best future for this album will be as a true oddity for those who like to collect oddities, because this original album is the only one that has the studio versions with fake 'liveness' added on. Possibly there is some sort of humorous camp value there. The recording of "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue", in particular" gets fairly comical with lots of added on crowd noise pulled from other parts of the recording. You almost expect someone to enter this musique concrete monstrosity and start saying 'number nine' over and over.

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