THE UNIQUE: THELONIOUS MONK
very personal treatments of great standards
Thelonious Monk (p) Oscar Pettiford (b) Art Blakey (drs) (Memories of You is an accompanied piano solo.)
Hackensack, New Jersey; March 17 and April 3, 1956
1. Liza (3:10) (Ira and George Gershwin)
2. Memories of You (4:16) (Rzal-Blake)
3. Honeysuckle Rose (5:23) (Razal-Waller)
4. Darn That Dream (6:29) (Burke-Van Heusen)
1. Tea for Two (5:52) (Caesar-Youmans)
2. You Are Too Beautiful (4:55) (Hart-Rodgers)
3. Just You, Just Me (7:58) (Klages-Greer)
This is the second Riverside LP devoted to the unique and fascinating jazz artistry of THELONIOUS MONK.
As in his previous album for his label, which was a collections of Duke Ellington compositions (see right hand column for detailed listing), Monk concerned himself here with "standards" - popular tunes that have demonstrated sturduness and above-average quality by remaining popular for a good many years. The present group of numbers are, like the Ellington selections, decidedly personal interpretations, strongly colored by Monk's highly individual approach and ideas. But the starting point in each case is a familiar melody.
This is a departure from the procedure on earlier recordings by Monk, where the emphasis was invariably on the pianist's own compositions. Monk's 'originals' it happens, are among the richest and most inventive of modern jazz writing. Nevertheless, the decision to by-pass them temporarily is a quite deliberate one. It stems from Riverside's desire to relate a myth that has gotten somewhat out of hand. For a variety of reasons, and starting (as most legends do) from a basis of moderately accurate fact, this pioneer modernist has gained the reputation of being a rather forbiddingly difficult-to-understand musician (the "High Priest of Bop" - whatever that might mean). As a result, there are those who tend to shy away form Monk's music almost automatically, who have decided without really listening that it is something they can't expect to grasp or enjoy. It is our very strong belief that such people are cheating themselves, and missing out on valuable and compelling musical experiences.
Now, if it were their loss alone, there might be no great desire to divert these people from their self-imposed fate. But some part at least of the measure of an artist "effectiveness" must lie in the extent of his impact on an audience. Thus Thelonious - whose influence on fellow - musicians and on the whole basic framework of modern jazz is, by contrast, vast and almost universally recognized - must also be considered as losing something through this situation.
In this album and its immediate predecessor, there is no attempt to "change" Monk. (There would be no possibility of doing that even if anyone wanted to : this is a mature and properly self-confident artist whose fundamental musical concepts are by now quite firmly established). But Thelonious is highly capable of working with the material furnished by the standard pop composers. More than that, he happens to enjoy (as some jazz artists do, and others do not) the challenge this can present. So it is possible to put into operation the theory that the likelihood of communication is greatly increased if the listener can start from a firm, familiar position. You know the tune of Liza, or Honeysuckle Rose , as well as Monk does. So everyone at least begins even. Thelonious can never be made to seem too "easy"; he is a forthright and uncompromising creative artist whose style and concepts remain non-conventional even by the standards of today's jazz. He is not easy; but neither is he a mystical or perverse wandered in a private universe. And when the point of origin from which he moves on out into the areas of his improvisation is clearly known, it should be a lot easier for more listeners to feel that this music, intricate and unusual though it may be, is nevertheless knowable.
So this album is concerned with well-known songs by some pretty fair craftsmen: George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Fats Waller, Vincent Youmans. The choice of repertoire is Monk's, and in just about all cases he has also chosen to take advantages of the roominess of a 12-inch LP, giving himself time to develop and expand some very intriguing ideas. On such often-played selections as Honeysuckle Rose and Tea for Two, his wry and insidious sense of humor makes itself evident, sharply and sometimes rather devastatingly. Tea for Two is a tune with potentialities of monotony that have trapped more than a few musicians; but Monk turns its repetitious line into a remarkable exercise in cumulative power. Memories of You, played unaccompanied, becomes a mood-piece of almost overshelming tenderness. Liza is taken at full-speed- ahead pace; Just You, Just Me is the starting point for rich, varied exploration in a swinging medium tempo. The remaining two are introspective ballads, with perhaps a touch of tongue in cheek here and there.
Monk has enjoyed the respect and admiration of a very substantial number of musicians ever since he first made his presence felt as a principal shaper of modern music, back in his early-1940s days of experimentation with Gillespie and Parker at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem. Consequently, he has never had to settle for working with anything less than the best jazz artists. It's hardly news that Oscar Pettiford and Art Blakey are about the best you could hope to find today on their respective instruments. Both are band leaders in their own right and outstandingly talented soloists, as well as superb accompanists. They were Monk's choice for these dates; and it's quite clear that, as always, they were enthusiastic about working with him. Both have a deep-seated understanding of Monk's music, so that they join with him here in a cohesive and consistently creative unity. Of their individual efforts, perhaps most notable are Pettiford's handling of the melodic line on the verse to Tea for Two and Blakey's surging solo on Just You, Just Me.
In total, then, this is Thelonious in top form: swinging, lyrical, provocative, with first-rate support, in an album designed to satisfy those who know and appreciate his work, and perhaps to convert some others.
Thelonious Monk was born in New York City on October 10, 1920. He was in the forefront of the musical revolution that produced "bop", has worked almost exclusively as leader of his own three and five-man groups, and has appeared in clubs, in concert and on records with a vast number of the leading Eastern modern-jazz performers. He lives in New York with his wife and two children. His previous Riverside album is:
THELONIOUS MONK plays Duke Ellington; with Oscar Pettiford, Kenny Clarke (RLP12-201) Mood Indigo - Caravan - I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good - I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart - It Don't Mean A Thing If it Ain't Got That Swing - Sophisticated Lady - Solitude - Black and Tan Fantasy
Riverside's twelve-inch LPs of HIGH FIDELITY modern jazz also include:
MUNDELL LOWE QUARTET; with Dick Hyman, Trigger Alpert, Ed Shaughnessy (RLP12- 204)
Guitar Moods by MUNDELL LOWE (RLP12-208)
Get Happy; the RANDY WESTON TRIO (RLP12-203)
RANDY WESTON Trio, plus Cecil Payne (RLP12-214)
The Voice of MARTY BELL / The Quartet of DON ELLIOTT (RLP12-206)
Outstanding modern music is also offered on such ten-inch LPs as:
SARAH VAUGHAN with John Kirby (RLP2511)
Six Valves: DON ELLIOTT and RUSTY DEDRICK - Dick Hyman arrangements for two trumpets and rhythm (RLP2517)
RANDY WESTON plays Cole Porter (RLP2508)
RANDY WESTON Trio; with Art Blakey (RLP2515)
A Woman in Love: BARBARA LEA sings with Billy Taylor, Johnny Windhurst (RLP2518)
A High Fidelity Recording (Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve).
Produced by Orrin Keepnews and Bill Grauer.
Notes by Orrin Keepnews.
The cover picture, by Carole Reiff Gallerly, was the first prize winner in the Metronome Magazine jazz photography contest. Cover design: Gene Gogerty.
Engineer : Rudy Van Gelder.
(Oscar Pettiford appears through the courtesy of Bethlehem Records)
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.