Paul Gonsalves: tenor saxophonist

Paul Gonsalves: born July 12, 1920 in Brockton, MA; died May 14, 1974 in London, England

  • Guitar was his first instrument in 1936, but he soon concentrated on tenor sax. In the early 1940s, Gonsalves was a featured soloist with the Phil Edmunds band, from New Bedford, MA.
  • After serving in the Army from 1942-45, he worked and recorded with Sabby Lewis in 1945-46. In 1946, he joined Count Basie, then worked briefly with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band in 1949.
  • Gonsalves joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1950, and remained with Ellington for the remainder of his career, except for a brief period with the Tommy Dorsey band in 1953.
  • Apart from Ellington, Gonsalves recorded widely as both a leader and a sideman. Sessions included those with Nat Adderley and Sonny Stitt in the 1960s, Roy Eldridge and Ray Nance in the 1970s, and dates with Clark Terry, Dinah Washington, Ray Charles and Billy Taylor.
  • His extended solo at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956 put the Ellington Orchestra on the cover of Time magazine.
Paul Gonsalves

Paul Gonsalves (Photo by Lee Tanner)

Tom Reney on Paul Gonsalves

Paul Gonsalves was born in Brockton, grew up in New Bedford and came to local renown as a member of the Sabby Lewis band. Pianist Paul Broadnax, who worked as an arranger for the band, recalls Gonsalves as an “incredible player who could lift a whole band. He was full of ideas, very advanced. You knew he was going places.” Gonsalves joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1950 and remained until his death in May 1974, just days before Ellington’s own passing.

Gonsalves’ style—bold, serpentine, harmonically sophisticated, with unusual shadings of pitch—added immeasurably to Ellington’s tonal palette; Ellington called him a player of “profound authority.” Gonsalves also played a major role in one of the most famous moments in jazz history when, at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956, he played an electrifying, 27-chorus solo on Ellington’s “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.” The performance so revived Ellington’s sagging fortunes that he took to describing himself and Gonsalves as having been “born in Newport, Rhode Island in 1956.”