On September 27th, Thelonious Records, in conjunction with Blue
Note Records, released Thelonious Monk Quartet with
John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, a never-before-heard
jazz classic that documents one of the most historically important
working bands in the history of the music, a band that was both
short-lived and, until now, thought to be frustratingly under-recorded.
The concert, which took place at the famed New York hall on November
29, 1957, was preserved on newly-discovered tapes made by Voice
of America for a later radio broadcast that were located at the
Library of Congress in Washington DC earlier this year.
was a pivotal year in the lives and careers of both Thelonious Monk
and John Coltrane. For Monk, 1957 began auspiciously. For several
years the pianist had been unable to perform in New York City’s
clubs and concert halls due to the loss of his cabaret card, but
with the help of his manager Harry Colomby and the patroness Nica
de Koenigswarter, he regained his card early that year, and immediately
began working again around town.
had been on the verge of a breakthrough since 1955. Having been
instrumental in the birth of bebop as the house pianist at the Harlem
club Minton’s Playhouse, as well as playing in the bands of
Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Monk was given his first opportunity
to make his own records as a leader by Alfred Lion of Blue Note
Records in 1946. After making a series of early recordings for Blue
Note and then Prestige, he began to reach a wider audience upon
his move to Riverside in 1955.
due to his inability to perform in New York during that time period,
and his unwillingness to travel, mainstream recognition was still
out of reach. So, upon the return of his cabaret card in 1957, Monk
wasted no time in getting back on track. His first gig was an open-ended
engagement at the Five Spot Café in the East Village for
which he hired a quartet that included the tenor saxophonist John
Coltrane, 1957 began with the lowest point of his career. He had
been lifted from obscurity two years previous when Miles Davis hired
him into his quintet, but by late-1956 Coltrane’s heroin addiction
had started to interfere with his performance. After several warnings,
Davis finally ran out of patience, and in April 1957 fired the saxophonist
for his unreliability. Having squandered his best job to-date, he
returned home to Philadelphia, and in May he kicked his addiction
cold turkey. Years later, Coltrane would also describe this as a
moment of spiritual reawakening, a path that would ultimately lead
to perhaps his greatest achievement, A Love Supreme. And so it was
with a renewed spirit and dedication that Coltrane returned to New
York in the late-Spring/early-Summer of 1957, began attending Monk’s
informal workshops at his apartment, and eventually joined Monk’s
quartet at the Five Spot in late-July.
Five Spot engagement was a triumph. The club was packed with lines
around the block every night of what would become a five-month engagement.
Monk was finally given the recognition that he long deserved, and
Coltrane, inspired by Monk’s music and pedagogy, began developing
at an astounding rate. “My time with Monk brought me into
association with a supreme architect of music,” Coltrane said
in a Down Beat article. Coltrane also made his first great record,
Blue Train, for Blue Note Records in September 1957, just two months
before the Carnegie Hall concert.
brings us to November 29, 1957. Monk and Coltrane had been working
together for a solid four months by the time they set foot on stage
at Carnegie Hall that night. By all accounts, Coltrane had been
tentative early on in the Five Spot run, challenged at first by
Monk’s quirky melodies and chord changes, but the 51 minutes
of music captured here in pristine sound quality, present the quartet,
which was completed by bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and drummer Shadow
Wilson, at the height of their powers.
quartet performed two short sets, with the repertoire largely culled
from Monk’s book. The first set consists of “Monk’s
Mood,” “Evidence,” “Crepuscule with Nellie,”
“Nutty” and “Epistrophy.” The second set
they stretched out a bit more, opening with “Bye-Ya,”
followed by the sole standard “Sweet & Lovely,”
“Blue Monk” and closing with an incomplete second-take
of “Epistrophy” that ends when the tape runs out.
concert, a benefit for the Morningside Community Center in Harlem,
boasted a jaw-dropping line-up of artists that also included Billie
Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Chet Baker with Zoot Sims,
and Sonny Rollins, and was recorded for a later broadcast overseas
by Voice of America.
month after the Carnegie Hall concert the Five Spot run finally
came to an end, Coltrane left Monk’s quartet ignited from
that spark of creativity, and proceeded to change the face of jazz
over the remaining 10 years of his life, at first reuniting with
Miles Davis to create such landmark recordings as Round About
Midnight and Kind of Blue, and then creating his own
landmarks such as Giant Steps and A Love Supreme,
the latter with his own classic quartet featuring McCoy Tyner, Jimmy
Garrison and Elvin Jones. Monk’s star also continued to rise.
The pianist eventually found another tenor saxophonist that could
embody his music in the person of Charlie Rouse, went to sign with
powerhouse label Columbia Records, and grace the cover of TIME
tapes from that evening at Carnegie Hall were inadequately labeled,
filed away amongst the Voice of America’s vast collection
of recordings, and apparently forgotten until January 2005 when
Larry Appelbaum, a supervisor and jazz specialist at the Library
of Congress, came upon them by chance during the routine process
of digitally transferring the Library’s collection for preservation
purposes. Appelbaum noticed a set of tapes simply labeled “sp.
Event 11/29/57 carnegie jazz concert (#1),” with one of the
tapes barring the sole marking “T. Monk.” All of the
evening’s performances, with the sole exception of Billie
Holiday’s performances were present in the set.
now, remarkably little recorded documentation of Monk’s quartet
with Coltrane has been available, a fact that makes this finding
all the more significant. The quartet did record three tracks in
the studio for Riverside over the summer of 1957, “Ruby My
Dear,” “Trinkle, Tinkle” and “Nutty,”
which were released on Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane.
Also, in 1993, Blue Note released an amateur live recording, titled
Live at the Five Spot—Discovery!, of Monk’s quartet
in September 1958 after Coltrane had left the band but returned
temporarily to fill in for tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin. However,
it was taken from Naima Coltrane’s (John’s wife at the
time) handheld recording device, and the sound quality wasn’t
optimal. Digitally restored by T.S. Monk and GrandMixer DXT, Thelonious
Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall is the only
full-length professional recording known to exist of a remarkable
piece of jazz history.