Ellington at Newport is a 1956 live jazz album by Duke Ellington and his band of their 1956 concert at the Newport Jazz Festival, a concert which revitalized Ellington's flagging career. Jazz promoter George Wein describes the 1956 concert as "the greatest performance of [Ellington's] career... It stood for everything that jazz had been and could be". It is included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, which ranks it "one of the most famous... in jazz history". The original release partly recreated in the studio the Ellington Orchestra's festival appearance.
Duke and his orchestra arrived to play at the Newport Jazz Festival at a time when jazz festivals were a fairly new innovation. Ellington's band was the first and last group to play at the Newport Festival. The first, short set began at 8:30 and included "The Star Spangled Banner", "Black and Tan Fantasy" and "Tea for Two". This set was played without a few of the band's members as they were unable to be found at the start of the show.
After performances by the other groups, the remainder of the band was located and the real performance began. Duke led off with "Take the 'A' Train", followed by a new composition by Duke and Billy Strayhorn, a suite of three pieces: "Festival Junction", "Blues to Be There", and "Newport Up". This suite was intended to be the showstopper, but the reception was not as enthusiastic as was hoped.
Following the Festival suite, Duke called for Harry Carney's baritone saxophone performance of "Sophisticated Lady". Then the orchestra played "Day In, Day Out". Following this, Duke announced that they were pulling out "some of our 1938 vintage": a pair of blues, "Diminuendo in Blue" and "Crescendo in Blue" joined by an improvised interval, which Duke announced would be played by tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves.
Ellington's appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 7, 1956 returned him to wider prominence and exposed him to new audiences. The feature "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" comprised two tunes that had been in the band's book since 1937 but largely forgotten until Ellington, who had abruptly ended the band's scheduled set because of the late arrival of four key players, called the two tunes as the time was approaching midnight. Announcing that the two pieces would be separated by an "interlude" played by tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, Ellington proceeded to lead the band through the two pieces, with Gonsalves' 27-chorus marathon solo whipping the crowd into a frenzy, leading the Maestro to play way beyond the curfew time despite urgent pleas from Festive organizer George Wein to bring the program to an end.
The concert made international headlines, led to one of only four Time magazine cover stories dedicated to a jazz musician (Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, and Wynton Marsalis are the others) and resulted in an album produced by George Avakian that would become the best-selling long-playing recording of Ellington's career.
Ironically though, much of the music on the vinyl LP was, in effect, "simulated", with only about 40% actually from the concert itself. According to Avakian, Ellington was dissatisfied with aspects of the performance and felt the musicians had been under rehearsed. The band assembled the next day to re-record several of the numbers with the addition of artificial crowd noise, none of which was disclosed to purchasers of the album. Not until 1999 was the concert recording properly released for the first time. The revived attention brought about by the Newport appearance should not have surprised anyone, Johnny Hodges had returned the previous year, and Ellington's collaboration with Strayhorn had been renewed around the same time, under terms more amenable to the younger man.
The original Ellington at Newport album was the first release in a new recording contract with Columbia Records which yielded several years of recording stability, mainly under producer Irving Townsend, who coaxed both commercial and artistic productions from Ellington.