Paul Gonsalves Biography

12 July 1920, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, d. 15 May 1974, London, England. Gonsalves’ first professional engagement in Boston was on tenor saxophone with the Sabby Lewis band, in which he played both before and after his military service during World War II. On leaving Lewis he played with Count Basie from 1946-49, was briefly with Dizzy Gillespie, and then joined Duke Ellington in 1950. Gonsalves remained with Ellington for the rest of his life, his occasional absences from the band resulting from his addiction to alcohol and narcotics. Like many other would-be Ellingtonian tenor players, Gonsalves began by learning Ben Webster’s ‘Cottontail’ solo note for note, but quickly established his own distinctive style. The circumstance which made Gonsalves’ reputation was his appearance with Ellington at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, when his storming, 27-chorus bridge between the opening and closing sections of ‘Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue’ helped to focus media attention on the band and provided the basis of Ellington’s ‘comeback’. Thereafter, Gonsalves was obliged to play extended gallery-pleasing, up-tempo solos every night, a fact which overshadowed his enormous affinity with ballads

Gonsalves’ relaxed and thoughtful approach to tunes displayed a love for melody and an ability to develop long, clean and logical solo lines. His rhapsodic playing on Ellington performances such as ‘Happy Reunion’, ‘Chelsea Bridge’, ‘Solitude’ and ‘Mount Harissa’ from the Far East Suite all testify to his vulnerable, often tender sound. His playing on records made outside the Ellington aegis is usually of a similarly reflective nature. A 1970 album with Ray Nance, Just A-Sittin’ And A-Rockin’, is a good example, including a marvellous performance of ‘Don’t Blame Me’. Gonsalves surpassed even this onLove Calls, his 1967 album of duets with Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, where he delivers what might well be the definitive version of this song. In such performances, the quality of the playing perhaps reflect the man himself: Gonsalves was a sensitive yet fragile human being. He succumbed to drug addiction and alcohol dependence early in life and his career was afterwards dogged by these twin perils. When he died in London, in May 1974, his employer for close on a quarter of a century was himself too ill to be told. Ellington died a few days later and the bodies of both men, and that of Tyree Glenn, lay together in the same New York funeral home.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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