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Duke Ellington Tuesday, 27 April, 1999, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Newport festival fever
The emergence of bebop in the late 1940s and early 1950s was bad news for many big bands, including Duke Ellington's.

Duke Ellington
Bebop started as a something of cult movement in New York but after several years it became fashionable and made stars of its main players including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Theolonius Monk.

Bebop was the punk movement of jazz. It rebelled against the swing era, played most numbers at fast tempos and challenged the orthodoxy of jazz soloing.

Against this background Duke Ellington's band began to suffer. It lost its fashionable appeal which triggered money problems.

Moving 16 or more musicians by bus, plus constant accommodation meant huge expenses.

Open wallet surgery

Ellington's money-managment had been relaxed at the best of times. His taste for the high-life largely disregarded his income. He continued to indulge in eating at good restaurants and buying expensive clothing.

Ellington had a particular penchant for stylish clothes
But the money didn't keep rolling in. The popularity of big bands waned as many younger listeners moved on.

The bebop scene became hip, with its dress code, and new sounds. Black youths loved it because there were hardly any whites playing it, unlike swing and big band music. It swelled a sense of black pride.

Against this background Duke Ellington and his band went through something of a depression. But this was to change - almost overnight.


In 1954 a young jazz enthusiast George Wein established the Newport Jazz Festival. In 1956 Duke Ellington and his band were invited to play.

On Saturday night Ellington's band kicked off with a short set at 8.30pm before giving way to a number of then hip acts from the west coast, such as Jimmy Guiffre and Bud Shank.

Ellington's band was scheduled to wrap up the evening But with the programme running late it looked as though the band would only be playing as everyone was leaving.


Duke Ellington and his band were becoming annoyed and according to jazz writer James Lincoln Collier, Duke mumbled: "What are we, the animal act, the acrobats?"

Just before midnight with half the audience on the way out the door, the depressed and frustrated band took the stage.

They played a specially commissioned piece and then Ellington called for an older number, Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.

The star tenor player Paul Gonsalves, who was featured on the number, could not remember what he was expected to do.

Ellington reassured him: "I'll bring you in and I'll take you out. That's all you have to do. Just get out there and blow your tail off. You've done it before."

What followed was one of the most electrifying moments in jazz history. Gonsalves and the band blew the audience away.

A few in the crowd began to shout and clap after a few choruses. Within a few more minutes of hard soloing the crowd was whipped into a frenzy.

In little more than six minutes of hard soloing Gonsalves had transformed the set. It lasted around 90 minutes and is thought to be one of the great live jazz performances of all time - and the turnaround of the Duke Ellington band.

Paul Gonsalves soloing on Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, Newport 1956
Watch the Duke Ellington band in full swing in 1952
Links to more Duke Ellington stories are at the foot of the page.

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