The idea of composing music of any kind is completely magical to me. I can understand DaVinci dipping a brush into his oils and producing the "Mona Lisa" or Dante spinning his Divine Comedy, but how, I ask, can a composer conceive an original work, imagine the different instruments that might contribute to its overall tapestry, and finally bring the entire piece to fruition? People sometimes speak of a hypothetical room full of monkeys and typewriters eventually producing the works of Shakespeare, but we've never heard any speculation about monkeys and pianos. That genius can never be attributed to the hand of chance. Whether it's John Lennon and Paul McCartney sitting down to write "Eleanor Rigby" or John Coltrane creating "A Love Supreme" or a deaf Beethoven writing his 9th Symphony, there is an element of the divine. It's no wonder the Ancient Greeks spoke of muses inspiring their artists. How else to explain miracles like these?
Duke Ellington is one of these geniuses, a songwriter beyond compare, and this won't be the last time one of his records shows up here. This particular record has an interesting history. The Newport Jazz Festival is one of the oldest and most important gatherings of musical talent in the United States, and the 1958 edition featured dozens of legendary musicians aside from Ellington. Like Ellington, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, and Mahalia Jackson all later issued "live" albums, each titled Newport 1958.
As was common at the time, Ellington's record isn't completely live, even though the album jacket claims that it was "recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival." Ellington and his orchestra did perform all of these songs at Newport, but those live recordings aren't preserved here. Dissatisfied with the performance -- several of these tracks were played for the first time at the festival -- and possibly the limitations of the live audio, Ellington took his band into the studio to record the songs again for the record. Crowd noise from the festival was dubbed in, so perhaps the subtitle on the jacket isn't completely wrong.
This is the story behind the original record from my father's collection, but by the time I was searching for the CD to add to my own, an expanded two-disc version with many of the original live recordings had been released, so that's the one I've always listened to. It was fun to listen to the vinyl this morning, filled mainly with polished versions of the tracks I had heard, but the genius was still there.
Just Scratchin' the Surface
Jass Festival Jazz
Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool
Prima Bara Dubla
Hi Fi Fo Fum