Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue

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"Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue"
Song by Duke Ellington
Written 1937
Writer Duke Ellington

"Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" is a big band jazz composition written in 1937 by Duke Ellington. Recorded for the first time on May 15, 1937, by Duke Ellington Orchestra, whose personnel were: Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams (tp) Rex Stewart (cnt), Barney Bigard (cl) Johnny Hodges, Otto Hardwick (as) Laurence Brown, Joe Nanton (tb), Harry Carney (cl,bs), Sonny Greer (dr), Wellmann Braud ( cb) Freddie Guy ( g) Duke Ellington (p). No tenor saxophone present in this recording section, neither in Crescendo in Blue, that was recorded the same day. In its early form, the two individual pieces, "Diminuendo in Blue" and "Crescendo in Blue," were recorded on opposite sides of a 78 rpm record.[1] Its 1956 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival is famously remembered for revitalizing Ellington's career, and nearly starting a riot.[2][3][4]

Performances before 1956[edit]

In early performances, "Crescendo" was played before "Diminuendo." It was played at the 1938 Randall's Island concert with Ellington playing the interlude on piano. During the mid-1940s, Ellington tried all sorts of pieces between these tunes, particularly in a series of broadcasts he made for the Treasury Department in 1945 and 1946. There are issued recordings of him playing "I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good)", "Carnegie Blues", "Rocks in My Bed" and "Transblucency" between these two pieces. The last piece was specifically composed as a wordless vocal for Kay Davis. Later that decade, Duke once again tried a piano solo between them.

The first known instance of Paul Gonsalves taking the solo between these pieces occurred on June 30, 1951 at Birdland. During the piano break after "Diminuendo," Gonsalves leaned over to Duke and asked if he could get a piece of the action. What followed was a driving, barnstorming solo that whipped the audience into a frenzy, with people crying out and jumping on their chairs. The solo lasted 26 choruses, one shorter than the solo he would play at Newport 1956. There are several other issued recordings of Gonsalves doing this before 1956.[citation needed] Strikingly, though, at Birdland Gonsalves drifts a whole bar ahead during the fourth chorus of his solo in which he attempts a complicated syncopated patter over the first six bars but loses four beats in the process. It seemingly takes another eight or nine whole choruses before the listener can really be sure that both Duke Ellington and bassist Wendell Marshall having adjusted to regain synch with Gonsalves, who just storms on regardless, in his own world. Despite this, it could be argued that the solo Gonsalves played at Birdland was considerably more invigorating and both melodically and harmonically inventive than the more famous 1956 Newport Jazz Festival rendition.Another session of Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue can be found in the famous 1953 Pasadena Concert .Capturing a March 30, 1953 gig by the Duke Ellington Orchestra at Gene Norman's legendary Crescendo nightclub in Pasadena, California, THE 1953 PASADENA CONCERT exemplifies Ellington's standard concert program of the time. Starting with two extended pieces, "The Tattooed Bride" and a sterling run through tenor Paul Gonsalves' traditional solo showcase "Diminuendo and Crescendo In Blue," the set moves through a few blues and jams, punctuated by a lengthy and frequently hysterical monologue by Ellington himself

1956 Newport Jazz Festival[edit]

There are no known recordings of Ellington playing the piece from March 30, 1953 until the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. In April 1956, there is evidence it was played in Durham, North Carolina, but no recordings.[citation needed]

At the historic 1956 Newport Festival, Duke told Gonsalves to blow as long as he wanted during the interlude, which Ellington later called "The Wailing Interval" or "Blow By Blow." In what has since become jazz folklore, Gonsalves almost created a riot as he played a tenor sax solo for 27 choruses that stirred up the normally staid crowd into a frenzy. A striking platinum blonde woman in a black evening dress, named Elaine Anderson,[5] jumped from her box seat and started dancing.[6] This helped serve as a catalyst for the crowd frenzy that grew as Gonsalves continued his forceful, energetic solo. In later performances, Gonsalves played as many as 60 choruses.[6]

This song, along with the other performances at the festival by Ellington's band, were released as a live recording which helped revive Ellington's flagging career. Personnel of Newport July 1956 concert were: Clark Terry, Ray Nance, Willie Cook, Cat Anderson(tp) Britt Woodman, Quentin Jackson (tb)Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves (ts) Johnny Hodges, Russel Procope(as) Harry Carney (bs)Jimmy Woode (cb) Sam Woodyard (dr) Duke Ellington (p) . Because of poor performance, "The Newport Jazz Festival Suite" and "Jeep's Blues" were rerecorded on July 9, 1956, in Columbia's New York studio. However, on every issue of Ellington at Newport, "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" is from the Newport stage, with varying sound quality.

1958 Alhambra Concert[edit]

in the October 29th, 1958 Ellington gave a concert at Alhambra Theatre in Paris, ( Duke Ellington "At the Alhambra " Columbia Rec. 1959 ). This is a faster version of classical 1937 recording, because during this session Gonsalves plays a very swinging solo with marvelous strength and timing. personnel of this recording session were the same as 1956 Newport Concert, plus Booty Wood on trombone.

1966 recording[edit]

There is a later recording of "Diminuendo In Blue/Blow by Blow" on the album Ella and Duke at the Cote D'Azur, recorded live in Juan-les-Pins on the French Riviera between June 26 and July 29, 1966, for Verve Records. Paul Gonsalves is featured on the "Blow by Blow" section.


  1. ^ Crawford, Richard (2000). The American Musical Landscape: The Business of Musicianship from Billings to Gershwin. University of California Press. pp. 199–200. ISBN 0-520-22482-5. 
  2. ^ WELCH, CATHERINE. "'As Long As They Want To Play': Newport Jazz At 60". NPR. NPR. Retrieved 13 May 2015. 
  3. ^ Smith, Andy. "Newport Jazz Fest highlights through the years". Providence Journal. Providence Journal. Retrieved 13 May 2015. 
  4. ^ Cordle, Owen. "100 years of Duke Ellington: Diminuendo, crescendo, resonance". The News & Observer. The News & Observer. Retrieved 13 May 2015. 
  5. ^ Morton, John Fass, Backstory in Blue, pp. 159-71, ISBN 978-0-8135-4282-9
  6. ^ a b Bradbury, David (2005). Duke Ellington. Haus Publishing. pp. 81–84. ISBN 1-904341-66-7. 
  • "Turn Up That Noise", review of Ellington At Newport 1956 (Complete) by Gene Hyde, June 7, 1999. Retrieved October 2, 2006.
  • Massagli, Luciano and Volonte, Giovanni. The New Desor: Duke Ellington's Story on Records, Parts One and Two, 1999, Milan, Italy.
  • Morton, John Fass, Backstory in Blue: Ellington at Newport '56, 2008, Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-4282-9