This remarkably warm performance is from a generally remarkable performance film of Duke Ellington with seven eminent members of his 1967 band, including alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, trumpeter Cat Anderson, trombonist Lawrence Brown and the man of the hour, tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves (bassist John Lamb, and drummer Rufus Jones round out the ensemble). Each of the horn soloists, and, of course, the leader himself, were utterly distinctive instrumental stylists for whom personality was a given. You knew each of these men from their first note forward. Their sounds were their ID cards; their solos, chapters from their autobiographies. And yet when they conjoined these individual approaches, the result was somehow indivisible. Such was the magic of Ellingtonia.
The great Gonsalves may be best known for his epic, combustible improvisation on "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, but I wish this -- and other thoughtfully impassioned ballad performances like it-- would register as his recognized legacy.To hear how elegantly he combines the breathy sensuality that was Ben Webster's gift to tenor saxophonists with authoritative touches of bebop's rhythmic drive, was to experience a player who had carved out his own identity from the disparate resources the jazz tradition had offered. Gonsalves could swing his tail off when called on, but few could also caress a ballad with his concentrated ardor.