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Reader writes: The Monitor and musical history

A letter to the editor for the July 30, 2018 weekly magazine.

Peter Main
Duke Ellington is seen in 1972.

The Monitor and musical history

I wanted to pass along this interesting and unique story of how a rolled-up copy of The Christian Science Monitor played a role in what many say is the greatest saxophone solo in musical history. 

A few days ago, I was looking at my collection of 33 r.p.m. records and one of them is titled “Ellington at Newport.” This album is the recording of the famous 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. On the back of the album is a note written by album producer George Avakian. Here is what he writes in the first paragraph: “Overshadowing everything else, including the introduction of a new work written expressly for this recording at Newport, Duke Ellington’s performance of ‘Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue’ in the last set of the 1956 Festival turned into one of the most extraordinary moments in the history of this annual event.”

The highlight was the incredible saxophone solo performance of Paul Gonsalves. He “played for 27 straight choruses,” Mr. Avakian notes. 

Avakian writes, “Out of sight of the crowd was an unsung hero who is quite possibly the person most responsible for this explosive performance. No one will ever know for sure, but perhaps the Ellington band might never have generated that terrific beat if it weren’t for Jo Jones, who had played drums that night with [jazz pianist] Teddy Wilson. Jo happened to be in a little runway below the left front of the stage, at the base of the steps leading up from the musicians’ tent behind the bandstand. From this vantage point, hidden from the crowd by a high canvas, but visible from the shoulders up to the musicians, Jo egged on the band with nothing more than appreciation and a rolled-up copy of the ‘Christian Science Monitor.’ As Duke (whose voice you can hear from time to time) drove the band in the early stages of ‘Diminuendo and Crescendo,’ first the reed section and then the trombones and finally the rest of the band picked up on Jo, who was shouting encouragement and swatting the edge of the stage with the newspaper, about eighteen inches from my squatting haunch.”

I thought this story was worth passing along.

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