THELONIOUS MONK: THELONIOUS ALONE IN SAN FRANCISCO
Thelonious Monk unaccompanied piano solos
San Francisco; October 21 & 22, 1959
Blue Monk (3:41) (Thelonious Monk)
Ruby, My Dear (3:55) (Thelonious Monk)
Round Lights (3:33) (Thelonious Monk)
Everything Happens to Me (5:35) (Matt Dennis)
You Took the Words Right Out Of My Heart (3:58) (Robin – Rainger)
Blue Hawk (3:37) (Thelonious Monk)
Pannonica (3:48) (Thelonious Monk)
Remember (2:36) (Irving Berlin)
There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie (Richman – Meskell – Wendling)
Reflection (5:03) (Thelonious Monk)
This is an album created, you might say, by stripping things down to the essentials; a bare hall, recording equipment, and one highly talented musician. When that musician is THELONIOUS MONK, it should not be at all surprising that het result is as intriguing and challenging a program as you could hope to get form any jazz combination of any size.
This remarkably creative pianist has often been considered “alone” (sometimes correctly, sometimes not) during the course of a still-expanding career that spans all of modern jazz. Thelonious was of course a focal point of the “be-bop” revolution of the very early 1940s and he has remained a major force ever since, both through his own work and by his influence on others. There were years when much of the public, most critics and even some musicians left Monk alone, either admitting that he baffled them or claiming that he was merely and over-legendized eccentric. But by the late 1950s, there was widespread recognition of his unique talents (for for examples: first place among pianists in the Down Beat Critics Poll and second in their Readers Poll in both ’58 and ’59), and he remained musically alone only in the sense that so highly personal an artist and composer must always remain somewhat apart and totally understandable only (if to anyone) to himself.
Being “alone” in the specific sense of recording by himself is of course a somewhat different matter, but not too different. This is Monk’s second album of this kind; the first (“Thelonious Himself” – RLP 12-235) having been recorded two and a half years earlier, before the current acceptance of Monk began t rake hold. In the notes to that LP, I commented that it is not always easy for other musicians, no matter how skilled or sympathetic, to “grasp fully or execute perfectly the intricate and demanding patterns that Monk’s mind can evolve,” so that one special attraction of a solo album is that it presents the pianist in a self-sufficient vein, offering an opportunity “to hear Thelonious as he thinks and sounds when he has chosen to be, temporarily, complete in himself.”
All this certainly still holds true for 1959 solo Monk, particularly since his now being a much bigger ‘name’ than he was early in 1957 is both less surprising and less distracting to Thelonious then it is to just about anyone else. Actually, circumstances combined to add several extra degrees of aloneness to this recording, and to make it perhaps an even more striking example of an artist looking into the depths of himself. Monk was making his first visit to San Francisco (a second solo album had been planned for sometime; the coincidence that Thelonious and this writer were both in the West Coast city at the same time brought it into being there). In a long, empty meeting hall – accoustically quite good, but rather bizarre-looking, with Monk sitting on-stage with banks of ancient, ornate chandeliers for background. In a strange city – when photographer Bill Claxton drove him to various landmarks (including the cable-car setting of the cover photo) during a break in the session, it was Monk’s first real view of San Francisco. And although personal matters generally don’t belong in liner notes, it might also be relevant that Thelonious had just had to leave his wife behind in Los Angeles, recuperating from major surgery; and that the first recording session came the afternoon after the opening night of his engagement at the Black Hawk – when, due to varied confusions not of his making. Thelonious had been the only member of his quartet on hand for the first two sets.
To what extent all these varieties of aloneness are reflected on the LP is an open question. What is clear is that Monk is in a predominately lyrical and introspective mood, with quiet emphasis on the blues and also with flashes of his characteristic wry humor. Some of the selections make for interesting comparison with precious recorded versions: Pannonica is now less ‘tough’, more richly a ballad than in the original quintet version on “Brilliant Corners” (RLP 12-226); Blue Monk is more subdued than in the on-the-job quartet effort on “Thelonious in Action” (RLP 12-262). The latter is one of three blues included here, the other two being new ones: Bluehawk, and Round Lights – this last in honor of those chandeliers! Ruby, My Dear has always been a ballad (he had most recently recorded it with Coleman Hawkins on “Monk’s Music” – RLP 12-242), but seems still deeper and firmer as a solo.
The other of his own tunes is the appropriately-titled Reflections; and then here are four standards, two of which (Everything Happens and You Took the Words) are old favorites of Monk’s, the sort he often plays solo at the start of a set in a club. Remember is a rather affectionate analysis of the Irving Berlin warhorse. But There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie, a 1929 number associated with Harry Richman, is something else again, an unplanned-for and unlikely inclusion. Thelonious came across it while leafing through a folio of old standards, recalled it, and proceeded to have a ball with it, exploring it in search of Monk-ish chords, and generally justifying his comment that “they won’t be expecting something like this from me.”
Other of Monk’s Riverside albums include –
THELONIOUS MONK at The Blackhawk (RLP 12-323; Stereo RLP 1171
Five by Monk by Five; with Thad Jones (RLP 12-305; Stereo RLP 1150)
The THELONIOUS MONK Orchestra at Town hall (RLP 12-300; Stereo RLP 1138)
Mulligan Meets Monk – with GERRY MULLIGAN (RLP 12-247; Stereo RLP 1106)
Monk’s Music; with John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Coleman Hawkins (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 11749
The Unique THELONIOUS MONK (RLP 12-209)
THELONIOUS MONK plays Duke Ellington (RLP 12-201)
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording (Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)
Produced, and notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover produced and designed by PAUL BACON – KEN BRAREN – HARRIS LEWINE
Cover and back-liner photos by WILLIAM CLAXTON
Engineer: REICE HAMEL
Mastered by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAYER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, N.Y.