I have a new project! I’m not sure how long I will last but I have begun working on Paul Gonsalves’ famous 27 choruses on “Diminuendo in Blue” from Duke Ellington’s 1956 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival.
There is a lot of backstory surrounding this performance, none of which I can verify as true or false: the band’s financial struggles and drop in popularity leading up to 1956, a cultural and generational clash at the festival between older patrons and a newer and younger crowd, Ellington’s clashes with the rowdier members of his band (Gonsalves included), and the story of one energetic young woman that began dancing in front of the band and (according to legend) reenergized the band and their set.
Regardless, the solo is really fun and incredible, and it’s a good showcase for Gonsalves’ style, which I think is really underrated. His technique his totally unique, sliding between notes with an articulation that nobody else I’ve heard has, and that kind of hides how modern a lot of his ideas are. To me, Gonsalves has a really modern vocabulary but his tone and vibrato are really expressive and kind of old-school; its not super crisp and clean like a lot of saxophonists during his time or after. Check out the songs “Happy Reunion” and “In Triplicate” for some other examples, but there are plenty of others from his time with Duke!
This style adds to the challenge of transcribing, as it’s really hard to nail that sliding approach down! Still, it’s just the beginning and I did my best, so here’s the first 3 choruses, warts and all!