As Duke, himself might say, “Praise God and Dance!”
Please watch and listen here, if you haven’t already
Two years before they left this world, Duke Ellington and Paul Gonsalves were at the University of Wisconsin. At some point before the music above was performed, Paul had not arrived for something important and was publicly cursed out and dressed down by Duke. It was out of character and delivered on a level that people had never seen before. Paul was driven to make it up to him and appeared on stage at the end of this seminar to reunite with Ellington in what meant more than anything to them, music. By the time the music ended, they’re shared musical and spiritual bond had been laid bare for all to see. It feels like every known version of this piece was building right up to this particular moment.
Back in the 80’s in my fledgling days of trying to be a jazz musician, I had one big signpost. I knew deep inside that Paul Gonsalves music was the way to myself. I entered a record auction to get original copies of his three records on Impulse. I scored “Cleopatra Feelin’ Jazzy”, and “Tell it the way it is!”. “Salt and Pepper” would have to wait. Through the auction, I acquired something even more valuable: A VHS copy of the seminar that Duke gave above, complete with Paul Gonsalves appearing at the end. Over the years, I had DVD copies made, and considered it one of my prized possessions. I was shocked to see the video posted on Facebook by Mr. Bret Primack, whom I cannot thank enough. I’ll never forget inviting Sabir Mateen and Daniel Carter to my pad in Hell’s Kitchen after a gig to watch this very same performance, hoping for their sanction of Paul as one of the masters. At some point, I made a friend in England who made me copies of every record Paul every did outside of Ellington, over twenty records. I’m pretty sure this is his website:
If music is to convey the beauty and mystery of the human experience, then this performance can only be considered profound. Perhaps the greatest American musician in history with his number one soloist at the absolute height of their creative powers. Their bodies may have been steadily falling under the ever oppressive weight of age, but they spent their entire lives making music to reach this level of pure expression. It’s rare to see Ellington in a duo format. With a more open rhythmic environment, Gonsalves conception comes through more than ever as he floats up and down like he’s rising above and below the surface of the ocean. He lets blues phrases jolt through him as he spirals down and cascades above. Duke provides just the right amount of conducting from the piano, instinctively knowing Paul’s moves even better than Paul himself. As my friend Eric Lawrence said, at some point in music you simply try to produce the most beautiful sound possible, and this is that moment for Paul Gonsalves. John Coltrane mentioned a core desire to focus more on making the sound itself the priority. Ornette spoke of this as well. Overall, this performance is truly beyond category, to use a favorite Ellington expression. It’s on such a high level that is transcends both in and out playing. In fact, for me this is the ultimate example of the what we can achieve when we take down the walls between the straight-ahead and avant-garde camps, and just erase those proverbial lines in the sand.
Seeing this video shared and viewed so much means a great deal to me. Seeing that so many people are feeling something that is really beyond words is a good sign. In what seems like an impending battle for the soul of America in the coming year, people are still making time for what life is all about. That’s what will carry us through it all.
Two years after this performance, both Duke and Paul made their transition. They had been bonded ever since Gonsalves triumph at Newport in 1956.
Here in 2015, over 100,000 people have now experienced their happy reunion.
For Chris Rich
TBC 12/6 at Shapeshifter Lounge. The 12 Houses are truly rising after 5 Sundays at Nublu. (full report on deck)