Hello JassOdyssey fans. Today is a memorable day in jazz because on this day in 1920, Paul Gonsalves was born. I’m sure that a lot of you are asking…who is Paul Gonsalves? Well, most of us have heard of other more popular musicians in the Duke Ellington orchestra such as Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges and Billy Strayhorn, but Paul Gonsalves was one of the jazz tenor saxophone players associated with Duke’s orchestra. He was known for his heart-massaging ballads, and his ability to display leather lungs on up-tempo material, which were valuable assets to the band.
According to an article that I found written by Bob Perkins back in 2014, the occasion that really brought Gonsalves to the fore was the Ellington Band’s appearance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. Ellington wasn’t happy with the band’s place in the schedule one evening, and some patrons had started to leave before the band’s performance. Jazz at that time had reached it zenith, and music fans were drifting away to Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues, and other forms of music. Ellington could see the handwriting on the wall. He called for the band to play his composition, Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, and called on Gonsalves to take the lead and just play on, hoping to excite and hold the crowd. Gonzales played a rollicking 27 choruses, and folks went literally crazy during the solo. Sam Woodyard, the drummer in the orchestra at that time, urged Gonsalves on with drum rolls and rim shots. A blonde female patron got up and danced to excite. Others joined in the terpsichore. The place was in a frenzy. The next day the critics hailed Ellington’s band, saying it had been reborn. If Gonsalves wasn’t already a star in the band—and in his own right—he became one overnight.
While reading the JassOdyssey series, imagine Miles and Roland being in the crowd at Newport. I’m sure that they both would have enjoyed it, and Miles would have taken some pointers from Gonsalves which would help him master playing Never Die.