Welcome to From Basin St. to Birdland

by mikeconklinmusic


Thelonious Monk

In the previous post, I tried to illustrate the connection between Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk; primarily, both approached the piano with percussive attacks and favored dissonance (Monk, obviously took it to another level).  The album, Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington (1955), was Orrin Keepnews’s  (of Riverside Records) attempt at making Monk more accessible to the public.

Here are some thoughts from Orrin Keepnews on working with Monk:

Monk made his first recordings as leader for Blue Note in 1947, Genius of Modern Music, Vol. 1. He would continue his relationship with Blue Note until 1952, when he was signed by Prestige Records. The apex of Monk’s association with Prestige came in 1954. Perhaps most significantly, he led a quintet through the originals “We See,” “Locomotive,” and “Hackensack” and a standard, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

Keepnews goes on to discuss what solidified his relationship with Monk and as a consequence why Monk joined Riverside:

Monk, throughout his career, generally led a trio or quartet: the arrangement would be piano, bass, drums for the trio and an added horn (usually a tenor sax) for the quartet. Charlie Rouse, on tenor sax, would be one of the mainstays of Monk’s aggregate — playing with him for 13 years. Occasionally, a fifth horn (usually a trumpet) would be added for a quintet ensemble.

Monk and Riverside would part ways when Columbia offered him a more lucrative contract. He would stay with Columbia from 1962 to 1970.

Here’s a live performance from Oslo, Norway in 1966. The tune, one of my favorites (and apparently Monk’s too!) is “Blue Monk.”

The cast of characters:

Thelonious Monk (piano), Charlie Rouse (tenor sax), Larry Gales (bass), Ben Riley (drums).

Here’s the tune!

The Thelonious Monk Quartet, Oslo, Norway

So, the tune is a typical 12-bar blues with each cycle of 12 bars being called a chorus.

Monk starts the tune and plays through the first chorus while the band lays out.

The band kicks in and they blow through two choruses of the tune.

After the third chorus, Monk and Rouse have a kind of call and response going — then Charlie solos while Monk comps in his typical “Monkish” style.

You’ll notice around 2:12, Monk lays out while Rouse continues to blow. A little FYI: Monk is standing up. When someone question about this in an interview, Monk’s response, “I can dig the rhythm better.”

Around 3:11, Monk takes his solo. You’ll notice how it is percussive, dissonant and sparse; it’s my contention that although Monk was a pioneer of the bebop style, he was not a conventional Bebop pianist.

Around 6:24, Monk lays out for Gales’s solo and then Riley’s solo…the track fades out…