On September 27, 1958 (or there about) Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and most of Ellington’s orchestra embarked S.S. Île de France to sail to Plymouth U.K. for his first European tour since 1950. It was to become his longest tour of Europe so far.
During six weeks, Ellington and the orchestra played a concerts in England (plus Wales), France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. The tour ended in Paris with a final concert at Salle Pleyel 0n November 20, 1958.
As many people do today, I asked the AI tool ChatGPT about Ellington’s concerts in Paris during the tour. It told me:
“Duke Ellington’s concerts in Paris in November 1958 are often regarded as some of the most memorable and historic performances in jazz history. Ellington and his orchestra performed a series of concerts at the Olympia Theater in Paris, which were recorded and released as an album called Ellington at the Olympia.
The concerts were part of a larger European tour that Ellington and his orchestra embarked upon in 1958. The tour was sponsored by the US State Department as part of its cultural exchange program, which aimed to promote American culture abroad and improve relations between the US and other countries.”
This did not sound familiar to me so I checked things in NDESOR, Ellingtonia and TDWAW and then I got a different story.
These sources told me that Ellington and the band arrived in Paris from London on October 27 for concerts at Palais de Chaillot on October 28 and Alhambra on October 29. There were two concerts at each place. They were announced in the October issues of Jazz Hot with Ellington on the cover. “Duke Ellington will give two concerts Tuesday on October 28 at Palais de Chaillot at 6 and 9:30 PM and two at l’Alhambra on October 29.”
For some reason, it did not announce the concert at Salle Pleyel in Paris on November 20, which ended the European tour but this concert was obviously a late addition to the tour?
The concerts are well documented both in terms of recordings and reviews..
The private radio station Europe n° 1 recorded the concerts at Palais de Chaillot och Alhambra and the public TV and radio station O.R.T.F. did it for the one at Salle Playel.
The leading French jazz journals Jazz Hot and Jazz Magazine wrote about them in their December 1958 (Jazz Hot) and January 1959 (Jazz Magazine) issues . Bulletin du Hot Club France (BHCF) wrote about the tour in its November and December issues
A substantial part of what was recorded of the concerts has been issued on CDs.
In 1990, the English label Magic issued two CDs with the complete recording of the concert at Salle Pleyel on November 20 together with material from Ellington’s concert second concert at Theatre de l’Alhambra on October 29. Also in 1990, the German label Magnetic Records issued the CD “Live Concerts in Paris – 1958” with a mixture of music from the first and second concerts on October 28 and likewise from October 29. The Pablo CD “At the Alhambra” has Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue from the second concert at Palais de Chaillot on October 28 and quite a lot from the first and second concerts on October 29 at Theatre de l’Alhambra.
In 1999, the French label Trema issued two CDs with the complete second concert at Alhambra on October 29. The same concert was issued on the Laserlight label in 2002.
The latest CD release so far with Ellington concerts in Paris is Frémeaux & Assocíés’ 2017 CD album “Duke Ellington Oct-Nov 1958 Live in Paris” with the complete second concert at Alhambra on October 29 and part of the one at Salle Pleyel on November 20.
The November 20 concert at Salle Pleyel was partly telecasted by O.R.T.F. A 31 minutes excerpt of it exists and will become available to DESS members in the Goodies Room.
However, the full telecast must have been longer. Did it start with the Take The “A” Train intro followed by the usual triple Black and Tan, Creole Love Call and The Mooch. As regards the end of the telecast, it seems likely that it stopped after the second Take The “A” Train with Paul Gonsalves soloing.
Here is a tidbit of the telecast.
In the December issues of Jazz Hot, Charles Delauney – its co-founder and editor-in-chief – wrote about the concerts at Palais de Chaillot. One can’t say that he was very enthusiastic about what he had heard but he tried to raise to the occasion of Ellington’s first concerts in Paris in eight years. “Not that the ensemble was particularly distinguished” he wrote, “but one felt one was dealing with a real orchestra”.
The full article is below.
“Long announced, the Ellington Orchestra finally gave five concerts in Paris on October 28 (at Chaillot) and 29 (at the Alhambra) and on November 20 at Pleyel.
We knew from the records and from those who had recently heard it in the United States that the orchestra was in good shape. Of course, we should not have expected a shock comparable to the one we had experienced during its first visit to Europe in 1933. But we knew that we would not be disappointed, as we all were in 1950, and as is often the case when one asks more of an orchestra (or musicians) than is reasonable.
Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the Wednesday evening concert, which was apparently the most successful, but the Tuesday concerts had already allowed us to appreciate an orchestra such as we rarely get to hear.
Not that the ensemble was particularly distinguished (for, in fact, there were few moments when the group gave its all), but simply because, even if the conviction was lacking, one felt that one was dealing with a real orchestra.
It is worth remembering that most of these musicians have spent more than twenty years of their career in similar orchestras. Whether they give a concert in Paris, Oklahoma or Detroit, what difference does it make to them? It takes exceptional circumstances, such as a trip to Newport, for the orchestra to break away from its daily routine.
But, as they were, the concerts I had the opportunity to hear allowed me to appreciate, as I said earlier, a “real orchestra”.
The desks play “as one man”. In particular, we found the unique sound of the saxophones of the Duke’s orchestra, as well as that of the trumpets.The rhythm section, mostly reduced to two elements (Sam Woodyard of Jimmy Woode) is much more efficient than those we had heard before. As much as Basie’s orchestra, when it came a year ago, was striking by its power and its aggressiveness, the Duke’s orchestra was distinguished by its nuances and its casualness.
Few bands have a comparable number of soloists: Cat Anderson is a prodigious trumpet phenomenon, but we prefer by far Clark Terry with his scintillating playing, or even Shorty Baker and Ray Nance, always full of spirit and humor.
On saxes, Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney remained almost equal to themselves and in “Things ain’t what they used to be” Johnny Hodges managed to unleash the orchestra. We will skip Jimmy Hamilton and Russell Procope, but we won’t hide our disappointment with Paul Gonsalves.
There is little to say about the trombones, except that Quentin Jackson does quite well in wa-wa, and that Britt Woodman did not convince us.
Let’s not insist on the singer, who does not deserve to be mentioned.
Extremely distinguished, the Duke seemed a bit old (it is true that he is sixty years old, and one would be very happy to have such a look at his age!) He rarely sits down at the piano, preferring, it seems, his role as master of ceremonies.
The program was “eclectic”, ranging from “pots pourris” to excerpts from Such sweet thunder (inspired by Shakespeare), through the various compositions that made the glory of the orchestra (Take the A train, Perdido, Caravan, Squeeze me, Diminuendo & crescendo in blue. etc.). But there is nothing really exceptional or new that testifies to the Duke’s recent creative activity.
Hugues Panassié’s review in BHJF was much more positive.
“Duke Ellington’s concert at Salle Pleyel on November 20, 1958, just before re-embarking for the USA, was the best of all his Paris concerts. Not only did it last half an hour longer than the others, but the musicians (and Duke himself) were unleashed, full of good humor and dynamism. What’s more, some of the musicians, Paul Gonsalves in particular, were heard much better than during the four concerts of the previous month. There were a number of never-before-heard tunes, including M. C. Blue (Multi-Colored Blue), which Johnny Hodges and the orchestra swung extraordinarily well.
Half an hour of the concert was televised, and there were, of course, a good number of jazz enthusiasts who recorded this half-hour on tape, enabling me to hear this part of the concert again later. It’s very useful to be able to check afterwards the value of impressions made during a concert. Well, the music really was as magnificent as I thought it would be.”
Delauney ended his review by saying: “As André Hodeir put it a few years ago, it seems that the Duke, now disillusioned, does not devote much leisure time to major works (does he have much leisure time?). How can we blame him when we remember the reception he always received from the critics whenever he presented something new?”
These lines created the fury of Hugues Panassié and he finished his review with a vicious attack: “While all the good, true jazz fans were rejoicing at having heard Duke in Paris, the gang of progressive cockroaches were pouring out their cranky, even venomous remarks about him.”.
In the December 1958 issue of Jazz Hot, there is also an article by Claude Bolling about Ellington’s first four concerts, which Delauney had asked him to write. It gives Bolling’s perspective on Ellington, his music and the orchestra.
The full televised part of the November 20th concert is here. However, it is available only to a select group to which I have sent the password.
Author: Ulf Lundin