Thelonious Monk -- "Monk's Music"
The Thelonious Monk Septet
Sleeve notes by Orrin Keepnews.
Abide With Me; Well, You Needn't; Ruby, My Dear; Off Minor; Epistrophy; Crepuscule with Nellie; (New York - June 26, 1957)
Ray Copeland - trumpet, Gigi Gryce - alto, Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane - tenors, Thelonious Monk - piano, Wilbur Ware - bass, Art Blakey - drums.
Abide With Me is the 19th Century hymn, always a favorite of Thelonious' (and, coincidentally, written by one William H Monk). It is stated here in just under a minute - an instance of the rarer side of the LP-granted freedom to make a piece as long or as short as desired. Only the four horns play in this respectful, straight-forward arrangement that adds unique Monk sonorities to the familiar tune.
Well, You Needn't is one of the two selections given extended treatment, with blowing room for all; an approach more typical of Monk's in-person appearances than of his recorded work. The tune was fully familiar to all present; the result was relaxed and inventive solo work. Between ensembles, opening and closing solos by Thelonious frame choruses by, in order: Coltrane, Copeland, Ware, Blakey, Hawkins, Gryce.
Ruby, My Dear was the first tune set for the album. Monk heard it in his mind as a perfect vehicle for the Hawk's matchless ballad style; and he was right.
Off Minor, originally a trio number spotlighting sparse, angular Monk piano, now becomes a rich seven piece score. Solos by Hawkins, Copeland, Monk.
Epistrophy is the second long, blowing selection, with solos by, in sequence; Coltrane, Copeland, Gryce, Ware, Blakey, Hawkins, Monk.
Crepuscule (meaning "twilight") with Nellie (Mrs Monk) is largely Thelonious; a chorus and a half of piano followed by an ensemble half-chorus.
'This is THELONIOUS MONK's music--an album emphasizing fresh versions of some of his most notable compositions as played with great skill, respect and enhusiasm by top jazz musicians.
Monk, throughout a long struggle for fitting recognition, has at least been fortunate in one important respect: a substantial body Of performers has always been aware of the originality, significance and validity of his music and been eager for opportunities to play alongside him. To work with Monk is a challenge, both because of the demands his music makes on players and because he is an unrelenting perfectionist; but this is the sort of challenge that talented and properly self-confident men appreciate and enjoy.
Thus, Thelonious has no difficulty in surrounding himself with the best. Of the four horns on this album, the most noted is of course COLEMAN HAWKINS, literally the first jazz saxophone star, who has remained consistently at or near the top for more than three decades. One of the very few to change effectively with changing jazz tides Hawkins joined with and encouraged modern jazz in the mid-1940's when most older musicians were busy scorning and misunderstanding it. He remains proud of a band he led on New York's S2nd Street then, and of its pianist - Thelonious Monk. This LP marks his first reunion with Thelonious in many years, and actually his first real experience with playing Monk's music. But his rich, deep tones fit the occasion wonderfully well, and so do his superb musicianship and a mind that has never thought in terms of narrow jazz "schools"
GIGI GRYCE, who has led his own group for Riverside, is a gifted young altoist and arranger who has figured importantly in the success of Oscar Pettiford's big band. He learned much from a close association with Charlie Parker, but certainly cannot be classed as a mere imitator of Bird. JOHN COLTRANE, one of the most impressive of the young tenor men, first came into real prominence with the Miles Davis Quintet in 1956. Just after the present LP was recorded, he became a key member of Monk's newly·formed quartet. RAY COPELAND, known to fellow musicians as a fine technician and inventive soloist, has made concert appearances with Thelonious, who is among the many who consider Ray among the most drastically underrated of current jazzmen. ART BLAKEY, long a top-rated star and leader of the Jazz Messengers, is one of Monk's favorite drummers, and has frequently recorded with him. Particularly noteworthy is the ease with which Art adapts his celebrated explosive style to fit Thelonious' requirements here. WILBUR WARE, who has, swiftly gained a reputation as one of the most remarkable bassists to come along in many years was also a member of Monk's 1957 quartet.
But, with all due respect to these six considerable talents a Thelonious Monk album belongs primarily to Thelonious, For many years regarded as an awesome genius, but one whose ideas were too far-out for general consumption, Monk now seems finally to be gaining long-deserved acceptance. A highly successful New York engagement at the Five Spot, in the Summer and Fall of 1957 helped by providing all comers with the prevlously rather rare experience of close-up listening in a club setting. Also, some critics feel that he is becoming (as John S. Wilson has put it) "increasingly lucid". If this sort of comment is to be taken as meaning that his music is becoming simpler or easier to digest, its accuracy is questionable, for such new compositions as Brilliant Corners (in RLP 12-226) and Crepuscule with Nellie are at least as complex and unconventional.as any of his earlier efforts. But it may be that, through more than a decade of exposure to not only Thelonious but also the many modernists who have absorbed his concepts, the jazz public and critics have become able to listen to Monk without being distracted by misgivings about dissonances, broken rhythms and the like, or by extraneous and dubious legends about personal eccentricities. It is also probably true that Monk's own ability to translate his ideas into actual piano performance has seldom if ever been at a higher level of skill and clarity.
In any event, more and more new listeners now seem prepared to take the trouble (and it still is trouble, although it can be vastly rewarding) to pay close attention to Thelonious. Which makes it a fitting time to present an album largely devoted to new and expanded treatments of four Monk "classics" of the '40s, previously recorded by him only in briefer versions and without horns.
It should be noted that terms like "composition," "arrangement," and for that matter even "performance," can be quite misleading if taken too narrowly. To a performer-writer like Monk (and like most major figures in East Coast jazz today), a composition is automatically also an arrangement, designed to be played by himself and by specific other instruments (often specific musicians). In subsequent performance with other players and groups of different sizes, the arrangement changes; after a while, a change of attitude towards the original composition, or new creative ideas, can lead to further substantial alterations, (This may be one reason why jazz of this school, whatever its own shortcomings might be, can never be accused of· "coldness" a charge sometimes to be made against music prepared once-and-for-all by arrangers who then do not continue to be personally involved with the composition.)
Because of this, and because Monk never likes to consider any tune as static, irrevocable or finally set, an 'old' Monk piece can and often does become recast and revitalized to a point where it should properly be regarded as 'new' music.
- Orrin Keepnews.