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Misterioso: THELONIOUS MONK Quartet

RLP-117 118 A
RLP-117 118 front
RLP-117 118 back.jpg
RLP-117 118 A.jpg
RLP-117 118 B.jpg

Johnny Griffin (ts) Thelonious Monk (p) Ahmed Abdul Malik (b) Roy Haynes (drs)

Recorded at the Five Spot Café, New York City; August, 1958


  1. Nutty (5:19) (Thelonious Monk)

  2. Blues Five Spot (8:16) (Monk)

  3. Let's Cool One (9:25) (Monk)


  1. In Walked Bud (11:18) (Monk)

  2. Just A Gigolo (2:10) (Caesar-Casucci)

  3. Misterioso (10:59) (Monk)

   This is THELONIOUS MONK’s eighth Riverside LP. Like all its predecessors and, undoubtedly, like the recordings still to come from the mind and hands of this remarkable artist, it offers several aspects – though hardly the full picture – of his distinctive talents.

   There are re-workings of four his earlier compositions (it should be axiomatic that Monk is a constantly self-renewing composer-arranger-musician, that each new recording of an “old” number, particularly with different personnel, represents a fresh view of it – almost a new composition.) There is one new piece: Blues Five Spot. As that title emphasizes, this album (like RLP 12-262) was recorded on-the-spot during Monk’s 1958 engagement at New York’s colorful Five Spot Café. Thus there is also a brief unaccompanied person of a standard (Just a Gigolo), characteristic of the way Thelonious opens most of his ‘set’ in a club.

   Since this is Monk in “live” performance, there is apt to be a somewhat more vivid, less introspective quality to his piano work than in at least some studio recordings. And this is also Monk reacting to the enthusiasm of the capacity crowd he drew nightly to the Five Spot, and Thelonious at the high level of performance that had, at just about this time, won him first honors among jazz pianists in the annual Down Beat International Critics Poll.

   The title selected for this album – Misterioso – is more than just the name of one of its numbers. It is an extremely Monk-like song title, evoking by its mild play on words (linking “mist” and “mystery”) another basic characteristic of his music at this or any other time, that feeling of challenge and depth that leads a writer like Gunther Schuller (as quoted below) to describe Thelonious quite aptly as “enigmatic and wonderful.”

   Having written quite frequently in the past few years on the inexhaustible subject of Thelonious Monk and his music, I (for one) think it a good idea to inject someone else’s point of view into a set of notes on Monk. The provocative paragraphs that follow are by Gunther Schuller, who is composer, critic and both a classical and jazz French horn player. These comments on Monk’s technique and influence are taken from an article that appeared in the first (November, 1958) issue of Nat Hentoff and Martin Williams’ magazine, Jazz Review, and are reprinted by permission:

   “… Monk uses his fingers, not in the usual arched position pianistic orthodoxy requires, but in a flat horizontal way. This determines a number of characteristics in Monk’s music. Aside from the tone quality it produces, it makes, for instance, the playing of octaves very hazardous. In playing an octave of two E’s, let us say, it would be easy to also hit by accident that D (a tone below the uper E) and the F (a tone above the lower E). I imagine that Monk soon discovered that he could exploit his unorthodox finger positions, and began to make use of these “extra” notes which others would have heard as “wrong” and tried to eliminate. The old tradition of approximating blue notes by playing minor second also fit in here. In this respect Monk went even further. The clash of a minor second became so natural to his ear that on top of one blue note he began to add another right next to it, as in Misterioso where the D-flat – already a blue note – has another blue note, the C, attached to it, like a satellite.

   “Also, Monk plays more large intervals in his right hand than most pianists. Again this is traceable, physically, to the way he plays. His fingers reach these intervals very naturally; and while this is true of half a dozen other pianists, I think this factor takes on added importance for Monk because of one striking feature of his talent. Where many pianists less original than Monk are concerned exclusively with playing the “right” (or acceptable) notes, Monk, at his most inspired, thinks of over-all shapes and designs or ideas. His hands to a large extent determine these shapes even genius, he does play the right notes, almost as a matter of course. This is to make a fine distinction – a distinction, however, that we need in order to separate the genius from the good musician.

   “(As for) the point of Monk’s belated influence, first let it be noted that this influence affected almost entirely instrumentalists other than pianists. Monk’s music, engendered largely by his unorthodox pianistic approach, resists effective imitation, always the starting point for any overt influence. To play on the piano some of the thinks Monk does the way he does them - even his whole-tone scales, not to mention his more adventurous flights – is virtually impossible for anyone else. Especially in regard to the tone quality Monk gets – a rich, fullbodied, “horn”-like sound, not unlike Ellington’s tone. (It should go without saying, but is often forgotten, that a man’s tone on his instrument is inseparably related to the nature of his music.) It is therefore natural that he influenced primarily “horn men, like Rollins and Griffin, who could absorb his musical ideas without coming to grips with his technical idiosyncrasies – such men could simply transfer the essence of these ideas to their instrument.

   “That this occurred years after Monk first set forth these ideas is not only normal but fitting. His ideas were both advanced and unorthodox. They would have been neither had they been immediately absorbed by dozens of musicians. Originality is rare and precious and resists easy assimilation. And in these times of standardization and bland conformism we should be grateful that there are still talents such as Thelonious Monk who remain slightly enigmatic and wonderful to some of us.”

   The featured sideman on this recording, as he was during virtually all of Monk’s mid-1958 Five Spot engagement, is the exciting young Chicago-born tenor man, JOHNNY GRIFFIN. Griffin, who was first brought to Riverside’s attention by Monk (who had worked with him briefly in Chicago a few years ago), has two albums of his own on this label, and is featured on a number of others, including ….

The Big Soul-Band: Johnny Griffin Orchestra (RLP 12-331; Stereo RLP 11179)

The Little Giant: Johnny Griffin Sextet; with Blue Mitchell, Wynton Kelly (RLP 12-304;

Stereo RLP 1149)

Monk’s other albums for Riverside are –

Thelonious Monk at The Blackhawk (RLP 12-323; Stereo RLP 1171)

Thelonious Monk Alone in San Francisco: solo piano (RLP 120312; Stereo RLP 1158)

Five by Monk by Five; with Thad Jones (RLP 2-305; Stereo 1150)

The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall (RLP 12-300; Stereo RLP 1138)

Thelonious in Action; with Johnny griffin (RLP 12-262; Stereo 1190)

Mulligan Meets Monk – with Gerry Mulligan (RLP 12-247; also Stereo RLP 1106)

Monk’s Music; with Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, Art Blakey (RLP 12-242;

Stereo RLP 1102)

Thelonious Himself: solo piano (RLP 12-235)

Brilliant Corners; with Sonny Rollins, Max Roach (RLP 12-226; Stereo RLP 1174)

The Unique Thelonious Monk (RLP 12-209)

Thelonious Monk plays Duke Ellington (RLP 12-201)

The present recoding is available in Stereophonic form on RLP 1133.

A HIGH FIDELITY Recording (Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)

Produced, and notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS

Cover painting – “The Seer,” by GIORGIO DE CHIRICO; courtesy of James Thrall Soby.

Cover designed by PAUL BACON

Engineer: RAY FOWLER


553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.

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