Paul Gonsalves on the Road will be performed at the Capital Fringe Festival from July 21st through the 29th. As any jazz listener or follower of the Duke Ellington Orchestra knows, Paul Gonsalves (1920-1974) was a brilliant tenor saxophonist with the Ellington Orchestra from 1950 until his death in 1974. Gonsalves was the creator of one of the most famous and memorable solos in jazz history when he blew a brilliant blues laden saxophone interval bridging the two movements of “Diminuendo and Crecscendo in Blue” at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. The performance helped bring new attention to the Ellington Orchestra, and the album “Ellington at Newport” released shortly after the concert remains the orchestra’s most popular release. Gonsalves is also responsible for memorable renditions of some of the most famous Ellington/Strayhorn ballads, such as “Chelsea Bridge” and “Happy Reunion.” Regrettably, his career was marred by recurrent substance abuse issues which often hampered performances and led to numerous conflicts with Ellington which threatened his career with the orchestra.
The play was inspired by an article in Downbeat Magazine published some forty years ago by jazz historian and DC resident Patricia Willard recounting Gonsalves’ appearance at a “Duke Ellington Week” sponsored by the University of Wisconsin in 1973, as well as by articles written by the playwright based on interviews with Gonsalves’ sister and daughter. During the appearance in Wisconsin, Gonsalves was persuaded to make a presentation to students about his career and approach to playing. The play dramatizes this discussion as well as Gonsalves’ recollection of his career as he tries to gather himself for the presentation and recover from another embarrassing incident on the bandstand which has, yet again, threatened his place in the orchestra. Gonsalves understands that the costs of life on the road and devotion to Ellington and his art have been considerable, particularly on his relationships with his family and children. But, he cannot back away, and even in the last months of Ellington’s and his own life his attachment is still total.
Because the play calls for the recreation of some of Gonsalves’ famous solos we are extremely fortunate that Davey Yarborough, one of the preeminent jazz saxophonists in this area and the Director of Jazz Studies for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, will play the lead role. Duke Ellington and his orchestra are a major part of the cultural history of Washington DC. Paul Gonsalves on the Road dramatizes a major component of this legacy – Paul Gonsalves and his art.
Paul Gonsalves on the Road will be performed at Mountain at Mt Vernon Methodist Church – 900 Mass Avenue, NW, in Washington DC on July 21, 22, 24, 27, and 28. Purchase tickets here starting June 18th.