JAZZ'S GRAND TRICKSTER
WOULD HAVE BEEN 91 THIS WEEK
There's no one quite like Thelonious Monk. His impact on the instrument of piano, jazz and music as a whole is beyond comprehension. He's one of those rare individuals whose imagination and fearlessness break up the calcification that builds up on music and frees it to wriggle and leap in the most amazing ways. Without Monk we would likely have no Marco Benevento or Brian Haas (JFJO). Without Monk we might still be twiddling our thumbs in bebop land, taking endless solos and restating the themes dutifully at the heads and tails. Born October 10, 1917, he conjured up reverberations that we're still shaking from, and we didn't want this week to pass without pausing to reflect on the man and the many gifts he gave us.
We begin our remembrance with a gorgeous reading of "Don't Blame Me" from 1966 in Denmark.
This rendition of "Light Blue" from Paris three years later features some beautifully controlled playing from Monk's longtime saxophone foil, the great (and under-sung) Charlie Rouse, who also shined during his brief time with the Ellington Orchestra in late '50s.
Few tunes in his arsenal so succinctly sum up the man like "Blue Monk," here in a TV performance from 1958. Count Basie looks on approvingly as the piece unfolds.
The play of lightness and heaviness in Monk's touch on this version of "Round Midnight" speaks to his gifts as a player as well as a composer/thinker.
We conclude with a performance of "Crepuscule with Nellie," which Steven Chabot described in an essay this past May as "one of those works that makes you feel a ripple deep in your soul" (read the short, insightful essay here).