Category Archives: Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington: Live at Newport


Duke Ellington: Ellington at Newport
Columbia (1956)

Number 996, of 1001 Albums You Must Listen to Before you Die.

Here’s another name I’ve heard mentioned time and again but haven’t listened to properly before. Although that’s changed in the past few weeks while I’ve been playing the shit out of this record. Ellington at Newport is billed as a live album, although apparently a significant chunk of it was  redone in the studio because the initial concert recordings were of poor quality. That said, it definitely sounds and feels like a live album. The vibe is wild.

Things start out all smooth and smoky. Duke gently coaxes chords out of his piano, a clarinet solos quietly around the room. But it doesn’t take long for trumpets and alto saxophones to start screaming, wailing and moaning like crazy folk in the nut house. The sounds the band get out of their reeded instruments is frantic, almost like electronic effects. Seriously, if you sampled this shit over a 4/4 bounce and added some digital treatment here and there you’d end up with a fried version of  Acid Techno.

In fact, listening to Ellington at Newport I can see the links between jazz and more modern, experimental music for the first time. As much as Ellington at Newport is about melody, it’s also about locking into a groove in the way that much electronic music works today. Those original DJs back in Detroit experimented with old Jazz records didn’t they? And the improvisation present in Jazz (of any era) has a distinct lineage through to more contemporary experimental music where the goal is to find euphoria while exploring sound. No wonder so many of today’s artists (Merzbow and Wolf Eyes being two examples) have collaborated with Jazz-influenced sonic terrorists. Look at Lasse Marhaug’s Jazzkamer project for example.

As the record progresses you can feel the vibe changing as both band and audience get carried away. The playing gets more emotive. The crowd cheers harder after every track until they’re almost in a frenzy, and as a listener it’s hard not to get swept up in it all.

I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by Ellington at Newport. I was expecting something far cheesier, and much more ‘marching band’. I also learnt that one of  Duke Ellington’s drummers is credited with introducing the double bass drum approach that nearly every Heavy Metal band relies on today. That’s crazy!  And, I have a new found respect for clarinets.