Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Duke Ellington and Paul Gonsalves, “Happy Reunion”

The news of a play about the tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, Arthur Luby’s Paul Gonsalves on the Road , led me to this videotaped performance:

“Happy Reunion” was a frequent concert feature for Gonsalves in the Ellington band’s later years. This performance (July 21, 1972) is from Ellington’s weeklong residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (July 17–21).

The story behind this performance, as I can piece it together: Gonsalves, who had a long history of alcohol and drug abuse, had been in bad shape (and perhaps late) for a Madison performance or rehearsal with the full band. The usual Ellington strategy with a wayward musician on stage was to call upon him for solo after solo. Or to look the other way: there’s footage of a mid-1960s Ellington performance with Gonsalves asleep on the bandstand, holding his saxophone in playing position as Ellington pretends not to notice. In Madison, Ellington released his wrath at Gonsalves in the form of choice words. I can’t imagine that happening in a concert setting. My hunch is that it happened at an open rehearsal. Gonsalves must have felt humiliated.

This performance came the next afternoon. Gonsalves seems to show up unannounced, as Ellington is answering a question from the audience. Listen closely for the question Ellington puts to Gonsalves at the start: “Stinky, you juiced again?” And Gonsalves, before playing: “Which way is Madison?” And afterward, at Gonsalves’s request, four kisses, an Ellington specialty (one for each cheek). A happy reunion, it seems. Was all forgiven? I think so.

Paul Gonsalves was a brilliant musician, and much more than the blues-wailing hero of the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. His influence can be heard quite clearly in fellow tenor David Murray, whose big band has performed an orchestrated version of Gonsalves’s 1956 solo on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” titled — what else? — “Paul Gonsalves.”

Wisconsin, let us see all your Ellington footage.

Related reading
The Paul Gonsalves Pages (a fan’s website)
All OCA Duke Ellington posts (Pinboard)

[I’ve pieced together what seems to have happened from two sources: this one and this one. My favorite “Happy Reunion” is the 1971 performance from The London Concert (United Artists, 1972). The two-LP set has been reissued on CD as The Togo Brava Suite .]

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