Dizzy Gillespie - trumpet
Sonny Stitt - tenor sax
Kai Winding - trombone
Thelonious Monk - piano
Al McKibbon - bass
Art Blakey - drums
Following the notorious gate-crashing fiasco and ensuing violence that erupted at the 1971 Newport Jazz Festival, causing the cancellation of Sunday night performances at Freebody Park, George Wein moved his annual summer clambake from its longstanding location in Newport, Rhode Island to New York City, where it continued as the Newport Jazz Festival in name only. The 1972 edition of the festival was a nine-day extravaganza spread throughout the Big Apple at such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, Philharmonic Hall and Radio City Music Hall as well as unconventional venues like the Staten Island Ferry and Yankee Stadium, where the Giants of Jazz appeared on a Saturday evening bill along with Herbie Mann, Les McCann and Roberta Flack.
The brainchild of Wein, the Giants of Jazz was a touring package that the Newport Jazz Festival impresario had put together in the Spring of 1972. As Wein recalls in his autobiography: "From the start I had envisioned a band featuring Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. I had also hoped to include Sonny Rollins, J.J. Johnson, Ray Brown and Max Roach. But for various reasons, some financial, these artists were unavailable. So I approach Sonny Stitt, Kai Winding, Al McKibbon and Art Blakey - and a band was born."
Essentially a glorified jam session held on a rainy Saturday evening at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, the Giants of Jazz kicked off their set with a rousing take on Dizzy Gillespie's famed bop anthem, "Blue 'N' Boogie." Monk solos first, followed in order by trombonist Winding, tenor sax burner Stitt, who turns in a honkin' bar walkin' gem, and trumpeter Gillespie, who sails into the stratosphere with the greatest of ease on a barrage of high notes. Drummer Blakey, who paces this cooker with his typically muscular drumming alongside bassist McKibbon's insistently walking bass lines, erupts for a dynamic, show-stopping solo of his own (you can hear audible grunts from the celebrated Jazz Messengers leader as he traverses this kit with unbound energy, enthusiasm and bold ideas).
Following the wild abandon of that exhilarating opener, the Giants settle into a gorgeous reading of "I Can't Get Started," the lovelorn lament written by George Gershwin and Vernon Duke and introduced in 1936 by Bob Hope, who sang it to Eve Arden in the Broadway revue, Zigfield Follies of 1936 (which also happened to be the Broadway debut of legendary choreographer George Balanchine). The tune was popularized in the jazz world by trumpeter Bunny Berigan's 1938 recording and was subsequently covered by everyone from Billie Holiday and Chet Baker to Sonny Rollins, Lester Young and countless others. This rendition of the tune is a beautiful showcase for chopsmeister Stitt, who double-times the affecting melody with ease on alto sax (at one point quoting from the Air Force theme song "Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder" in the course of his extended solo).
Next up is a rendition of Dizzy Gillespie's "Tour de Force," a 1956 composition based on the changes to the 1938 Harry Warren-Johnny Mercer tune, "Jeepers Creepers." Monk does some ambitious reharmonizing on his solo here before trombonist Winding takes over. Stitt actually references the source material, "Jeepers Creepers," in the middle of his burning tenor solo while Gillespie nimbly tosses off a quote from Sammy Cahn's "I Should Care" in the course of another vibrant high-note trumpet solo. Bassist McKibbon gets in some licks on this smoothly swinging number, which was originally recorded by Gillespie's big band for a 1956 Verve session.
Their rendition of Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia" opens with a pyrotechnic fusillade on the kit from Blakey before the Giants leap into that familiar theme. Gillespie's solo is here a stellar example of high note virtuosity. The tune also serves as a remarkable showcase for Blakey's unparalleled ingenuity and prowess on the kit. As the tune comes to a rousing close, Blakey is not yet finished, it seems. Call it an encore or a coda, there's still plenty of whirlwind drumming yet to be heard from the powerhouse Blakey before these Giants of Jazz pack it in at the House that Ruth built.
Following their July 8th appearance at the 1972 Newport Jazz Festival (in NYC), the Jazz Giants would embark on tours of Australia, Japan and Europe that resulted in two live recordings for the Mercury label. These previously unreleased live recordings from the 1972 Newport Jazz Festival show the all-star ensemble in prime form. (Milkowski)