Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue

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"Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue"
Song by Duke Ellington
Written 1937
Songwriter(s) Duke Ellington

"Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" is a big band jazz composition written in 1937 by Duke Ellington and recorded for the first time on May 15, 1937 by the Duke Ellington Orchestra, whose personnel were: Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams (trumpet), Rex Stewart (cornet), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Johnny Hodges, Otto Hardwick (alto saxophone), Laurence Brown, Joe Nanton (trombone), Harry Carney (clarinet, bass saxophone), Sonny Greer (drums), Wellmann Braud, Freddie Guy (guitar), and Duke Ellington (piano). No tenor saxophone was present in this recording section, nor in "Crescendo in Blue," which 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] The composition's 1956 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival revitalized Ellington's career, making newspaper headlines when seated audience members chaotically began rising to dance and stand on their chairs during Paul Gonsalves' famous tenor saxophone solo.[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.[citation needed] During the piano break after "Diminuendo," Gonsalves asked Ellington if he could solo; the solo lasted 26 choruses, one shorter than the solo he would play at Newport 1956, and driving the audience into a frenzy.[citation needed] There are several other issued recordings of Gonsalves doing this before 1956.[citation needed] Another session of "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" can be found in the March 20, 1953 concert at Gene Norman's Crescendo nightclub in Pasadena, California, which exemplifies Ellington's standard concert program of the time.[clarification needed]

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."[citation needed] In what has since become jazz folklore, Gonsalves almost created a riot as he played a tenor sax solo for 27 choruses that aroused the normally seated crowd into a frenzy of dancing, standing on chairs, and rushing the stage. A woman with platinum blond hair in a black evening dress, named Elaine Anderson,[5] jumped from her box seat to start dancing, and she is often credited with initiating the crowd's ensuing uproar as Gonsalves continued his solo.[6] In other 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 (trumpet), Britt Woodman, Quentin Jackson (trombone), Jimmy Hamilton, Paul Gonsalves (tenor saxophone), Johnny Hodges, Russel Procope (alto saxophone), Harry Carney (baritone saxophone), Jimmy Woode, Sam Woodyard (drums), and Duke Ellington (piano). Because of poor performance,[clarification needed] "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]

On October 29th, 1958 Ellington gave a concert at the Alhambra Theatre in Paris, (Duke Ellington "At the Alhambra " Columbia Rec. 1959). This is a faster version of the classical 1937 recording. 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