Duke Ellington: Festival Session

After its 1956 Newport appearance pushed up the Ellington band's stock, it capitalised with festival specials, recorded here in 1959


After Ellington’s acclaimed performance at the 1956 Newport Festival, which rejuvenated the band’s prospects, the Duke was regularly featured on the prestigious summer festival circuit across America, with Newport the official opener.

He enjoyed writing new pieces for the festivals, and four were included in his 1959 Festival Session album, a studio recording at the end of the festival season. (Astonishingly, the whole session was recorded between 8am and noon, according to  the original liner notes.) The aim was to capture highlights of that season’s live concert performances.

The first new title, Copout Extension, had been recorded as just Copout in 1957, but is rearranged here with a lengthy Gonsalves solo tacked on, probably in hope of a repeat of his 1956 marathon triumph in Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue.

Duel Fuel, a new composition in three parts, is built around passages of alternating dialogue between the two drummers, Sam Woodyard and Jimmy Johnson. The ensemble swings along brightly, and Woodyard is superb. Idiom 59, also in three parts and probably the most outstanding new piece, effectively contrasts the clarinet styles of Russell Procope and Jimmy Hamilton, backed by evocative orchestration which develops from musing balladry to rocking celebration in the ride-out, Clark Terry leading the charge.

Launching Pad, the last new piece, is an ingeniously arranged upbeat, bluesy track which features a quartet in close-scored rapport taking the solo passages – Britt Woodman, Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves and Clark Terry (who had actually composed the piece).

The remaining tracks, all Ducal standards, feature the band’s gifted and charismatic soloists. Terry skips brightly and nimbly through Perdido, Hodges coasts along in Things Ain’t What They Used To Be, Carney thunders authoritatively in V.I.P’s Boogie, and the all-round Jam With Sam closes to stratospheric squeals and chirrups from the amazing Cat Anderson. These last two tracks were not included on the LP album. Offering an interesting comparison, two final bonus tracks are generously added from live Newport performances recorded two months earlier of Idiom 59 and Copout Extension.

With an all-time expanded great orchestra in its prime, star soloists and innovative arrangements, this fine reissue is a must for Ellington collectors.

(1) Perdido; Copout Extension; (2) Duel Fuel; (Parts 1, 2 and 3); (1) Idiom 59 (Parts 1, 2 and 3); Things Ain’t What They Used To Be; Launching Pad; V.I.P.’s Boogie; Jam With Sam; (3) Idiom 59 (live version); Copout Extension (live version) (78.53)
(1) Cat Anderson, Harold “Shorty” Baker, Fats Ford, Willie Cook, Clark Terry (t); Ray Nance (t, vn); Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman, John Sanders (tb); Jimmy Hamilton (cl, ts); Russell Procope (cl, as); Johnny Hodges (as); Paul Gonsalves (ts); Harry Carney (bar, cl, bcl); Duke Ellington (p); Joe Benjamin (b, Idiom 59 part 1 only); Jimmy Woode (b); Sam Woodyard, Jimmy Johnson (d). NY, 8 September 1959.
(2) as (1) except Quentin Jackson (b) replaces Woode.
(3) as (1) but Newport Jazz Festival, Rhode Island, 4 July 1959.
Poll Winners  PWR27209