Posted: September 13th, 2008
The 1958 Newport Jazz Festival has taken on mythic status. Over those four days in July Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Dinah Washington, Gerry Mulligan, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Anita O’Day, George Shearing, Sonny Stitt, Chico Hamilton, and others played. That’s quite extraordinary, as is the fact that the event was so well documented. There were hundreds of feet of film shot, and filmmaker Bert Stern edited all of that down to 84 minutes of performances punctuated by the America’s Cup yacht race, which took place off the coast of Rhode Island at that same time. Plus, we have great CDs from the festival, especially Miles Davis‘s Live at Newport 1958.
On Sunday, the last day of the festival, Mahalia Jackson, the greatest gospel singer ever, took the stage, and luckily her performance, too, was recorded and released later that year as Live at Newport 1958. The original performance was just over 45 minutes long, but the LP release was much shorter. With the CD release we get more, nine other songs (including a marvelous "Keep Your Hand on the Plow" with the Duke Ellington Orchestra), restoring the entire set. And thank the Lord, as Mahalia might say. From the moment Willis Condover introduces her, she sings as a woman convinced of her place in heaven, if not of her place in history.
It was a career come from heaven. Until 1948, she was singing in churches, but then she recorded a huge hit, "Movin’ on Up," for the Apollo label, and she was suddenly a star. She started appearing on Studs Terkel’s TV show in 1950, went on a European tour, and in 1954 started hosting her own CBS radio show. Then she caught the attention of legendary Columbia producer John Hammond, who signed her up and got her on Ed Sullivan.
Moving past 1958, she sang at the Kennedy inaugural, for the civil rights March on Washington, for Indira Gandhi, and at her friend Martin Luther King’s funeral. She died a few years later at the age of 61.
The best moment in this set, besides raucous renditions of "He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands," "When the Saints Go Marching In," and "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho," is when Jackson speaks to the audience just after her regular set ends and she is ready to launch into her encores. She leaves it up to the audience. "Now I don’t know if you want to hear me and want to stay in the rain," she says, "I’m just getting warmed up." The crowd (we now know a wet crowd) screams for more. "All right, you make me feel like a star."
This woman wasn’t just simply singing, as she proclaims in "I"m Goin’ to Live the Life I Sing About in My Song," one of the previously unissued tracks. She was truly humble, even as the most famous gospel singers of all time. This CD is one you’ll pull out of your collection as a surprise every time. Mahalia Jackson‘s talent is one that you can’t resist, no matter how many times you’ve heard her preach the gospel.
- Mahalia Jackson – Vocals
- Tom Bryant – Bass
- Mildred Falls – Piano
- Lilton Mitchell – Organ
- Introduction (Conover) – :23
- An Evening Prayer (Battersby/Gabriel) – 3:02
- A City Called Heaven (Traditional) – 3:53
- I’m on My Way (Jackson) – 2:35
- It Don’t Cost Very Much (Dorsey) – 3:18
- Didn’t It Rain (Martin) – 3:36
- He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands (Traditional) – 2:37
- When the Saints Go Marching In (Traditional) – 3:15
- I’m Going to Live the Life I Sing About in (Dorsey) – 4:21
- Keep Your Hand on the Plow (Traditional) – 1:36
- The Lord’s Prayer (Malotte) – 4:16
- Walk over God’s Heaven (Dorsey) – 5:05
- Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho (Traditional) – 2:12
- Jesus Met the Woman at the Well (Alexander/Morris) – 3:12
- His Eye Is on the Sparrow (Gabriel/Martin)
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