When he brought his Duke Ellington Orchestra to the Newport Jazz Festival on July 7, 1956, 57-year-old Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington had seen his big-band style replaced in the popular imagination by the bebop of players like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Ellington pushed forward anyway, always experimenting—and one experiment in particular was about to pay off in an unforgettable fashion.
Ellington had lately been connecting the songs “Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue” in a medley via a tenor solo from saxophonist Paul Gonsalves. At Newport, Gonsalves summoned a 27-chorus workout so inspired and transcendent that the audience was practically rioting by the time he had finished. Orchestra and audience both remained at a fever pitch for the rest of the show (vividly captured on the live album Ellington at Newport), and Ellington’s career was immediately revitalized.