THELONIOUS IN ACTION
THELONIOUS MONK QUARTET : Recorded at the Five Spot Café, New York City
Thelonious Monk (p) Johnny Griffin (ts) Ahmed Abdul-Malik (b) Roy Haynes (drs)
1. Light Blue (5:15) (BMI)
2. Coming on the Hudson (5:25) (BMI)
3. Rhythm-a-ning (9:25) (BMI)
4. Epistrophy (theme) (1:04) (ASCAP)
1. Blue Monk (8:31) (BMI)
2. Evidence (8:49) (BMI)
3. Epistrophy (theme) (1:04) (ASCAP)
All selections composed by Thelonious Monk
This album captures the exciting core of an evening’s performance by a unique jazz group at an unusual club. The group is unique simply because any jazz unit led and molded by THELONIOUS MONK deserves that adjective; the club is unusual because, as a casual bar deep down on New York’s East Side, it contrasts sharply with the formal chicness or the alternative high-pressure pseudo-hipness of most of today’s jazz spots.
nd, when future jazz histories are written, the combination of Monk and the Five Spot may go down as one of the important legends and landmarks. For it was in this club that Thelonious spent the vast bulk of his working hours during 1957 and ’58, years in which the critics and the jazz public seemed finally to be making themselves fully aware of the vast significance of Monk’s role in jazz and also of the great vitality and sheer enjoyment value of his writing and playing. There have been, in the past, various kinds of important associations between men and places in jazz; King Oliver and Chicago’s Lincoln Gardens, where Louis Armstrong first joined him; Benny Goodman and the Paramount Theater in New York, where the dancing in the aisles first heralded the coming of the Swing craze. For modern jazz as a whole, there are key place-names already: Minton’s Playhouse, in Harlem, where Monk and Gillespie and others first formulated “bop;” and 52nd Street, where it was first exposed to the public. Thus, the Five Spot association comes along relatively late in Monk’s career and in the life of modern jazz; but the fact is that Thelonious for years operated in an unwarranted semi-obscurity, built in part out of the genuine complexity and difficulty of his music, and in part out of the way run-away press-agentry and rumor had exaggerated his “mad genius” aspects. And surely all this was compounded by the relative infrequency of his public performances. Then, in the Summer of 1957, when the success of certain recent recordings (most notably “Brilliant Corners”) had begun to tear at this veil somewhat, a Monk Quartet opened at the Five Spot.
The crowds came, often to the point where the small club had to turn them away at the door; and they came again and again. There is no denying, also, that the experience of working before enthusiastic crowds and their immediate reactions was of value t Monk: any artist seeks to communicate, and here was communication (by a musician often accused of not being able to reach any but the most limited audience) being swiftly and constantly proved, night after night.
Thelonious worked the rest of the year at the Five Spot, then took a breather, but was brought back in late Spring of ’58. The crowds and their enthusiasm were as great, or greater. The group, however, was changed. The original quartet had Coltrane on tenor; Wilbur Ware, bass; Shadow Wilson, drums. The group heard here is of course not the same, nor does it sound the same, nor could it. Monk himself is a constantly changing artist; also, he is amazingly sensitive to the nature of the men he works with. To a large degree, Thelonious molds any group he leads into his pattern; but it is important to recognize that the pattern he builds for a particular group comprehends and utilizes the specific values of the men with him. Aside from the basic fact that both are modern tenor men of outstanding talents, Johnny Griffin and John Coltrane are not the same man, and Monk is fully aware of this. Whether a particular listener likes one or the other “better” is quite beside the point; the point is that this group is the Monk quartet with Griffin, and its approach, style and even repertoire (all within the overall Monk pattern) clearly show that. This is apparent not only on the two Monk compositions recorded here for the first time (Coming on the Hudson and Light Blue) but also in the new shapings of such older selections as Evidence and Blue Monk.
It is important, in listening to an “old” Monk tune, to recognize that he is constantly rebuilding and re-using this material. It is really fully comparable to another musician’s making a new arrangement of an old standard because he still likes its basic melody and structure, but wants to use it as a vessel for newer ideas. The only difference is that Monk, taking advantage of the fact that Thelonious today is not identical with Thelonious of ten years ago, often uses his own material as such a vessel. (Actually, such albums as “Monk’s Music” and Monk’s “Town Hall” LP, both featuring expanded scorings of Monk classics, were built around precisely this concept.)
This was the first time that Thelonious had been recorded “live,” out of the studio. Perhaps the most immediately apparent difference is that Monk on the job seems more interested in himself as a pianist, as a performer, as (and his is very much a part of this artist) a showman. There is also, of course, that give-and-take of audience reaction: applause conversation, the comings and goings of a typical Five Spot crowd (made up in varying percentages of neo-Bohemian types who live nearby, musicians, jazz fans, the merely curious – and those who manage to combine more than one of these categories).
Each side of this LP offers a full band set exactly as played, concluding – as is the case with almost every set the group does – with a brief statement of Epistrophy as a closing theme.
JOHNNY GRIFFIN, the brilliant Chicago tenor, was first brought to Riverside’s attention by Monk, who worked with him briefly in Chicago a few years ago. Johnny has two albums of his won on Riverside and is featured on several others –
JOHNNY GRIFFIN Sextet; with Donald Byrd, Pepper Adams (RLP 12-264)
Way Out: JOHNNY GRIFFIN Quartet; with Kenny Drew, Wilbur Ware, Philly Joe Jones (RLP 12-274)
The Chicago Sound: WILBUR WARE Quintet featuring Johnny Griffin (RLP 12-252)
Serenade to a Bus Seat: CLARK TERRY Quintet; with Johnny Griffin, Wynton Kelly (RLP 12-237)
Big Six: BLUE MITCHELL, with Johnny Griffin, Curtis Fuller (RLP 12-273)
Ahmed Abdul-Malik, the strong, heavily bearded bassist who joined Monk midway through his first Five Spot engagement, has worked with Randy Weston’s Trio, and appeared with him on RLPs 12-214 and 12-232. Roy Haynes, who has played with the best, including a long stint backing Sarah Vaughan, can be heard with Sonny Rollins on RLP 12-241.
This is Monk’s seventh Riverside LPs; others are –
Mulligan Meets Monk: THELONIOUS MONK and GERRY MULLIGAN (RLP 12-247)
Monk’s Music: THELONIOUS MONK Septet; with Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, Art Blakey (RLP 12-242)
Thelonious Himself: solo piano (RLP 12-235)
Brilliant Corners: THELONIOUS MONK, with Sonny Rollins, Ernie Henry (RLP 12-226)
The Unique THELONIOUS MONK (RLP 12-209)
THELONIOUS MONK Plays duke Ellington (RLP 12-201)
He can also be heard on –
In Orbit: CLARK TERRY Quartet featuring Thelonious Monk (RLP 12-271)
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording (Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)
Produced and notes written by, ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover designed by PAUL BACON; cover photograph: JACK MANNING
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.