56 years ago today, Duke Ellington's career wasn't looking too great. After being the leader of one of the most important bands in the whole of jazz for a number of years, they were beginning to look dated and old, as hard bop took over and a new generation of jazz musicians came to the fore.
It was in this light that his performance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival should be heard. The band started off the day's entertainment with a short set performed by the guys in the band that had turned up (which was by no means all of them at that time of the day). Then, after everyone else had finished, Duke and the whole of his band took to the stage.
Starting with their theme tune, Take the A Train, through a suite of music composed specifically for the festival, past the astonishing Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, in which Paul Gonsalves, not normally a soloist, took the stage for a full 27 choruses, whipping the crowd into a frenzy that they couldn't be brought back down from as Ellington and the organisers attempted to keep control for the rest of the set.
In the end, Ellington kept playing until he was taken off the stage with the crowd still screaming for more. He and his band were right back at the forefront of jazz, and Ellington never lost his star status for the rest of his career.
Luckily for us, the whole concert is available to listen to. And it's beautiful. It's as good as big band era jazz gets.