## 8-9 previously unreleased
Original recordings produced by Teo Macero
========= from the cover ==========
Thelonious Monk is an example of an exceptionally uncorrupted creative talent.
He has accepted the challenges that one must accept to forge a music utilizing the jazz process. Because he lacks, perhaps fortunately, exposure to the Western classical music tradition or, for that matter, comprehensive exposure to any music other than jazz and American popular music, his reflections of formal superficialities and their replacement with fundamental structure has resulted in a unique and astoundingly pure music.
Make no mistake. This man knows exactly what he is doing in a theoretical way - organized, more than likely, in a personal terminology, but strongly organized nevertheless. We can be further grateful to him for combining aptitude, insight, drive, compassion, fantasy and whatever else makes the "total" artist, and we should also be grateful for such direct speech in an age of insurmountable conformist pressures.
In a recent Down Beat blindfold test, I was played a Thelonious Monk track. I might repeat here part of my reaction; Monk approaches the piano and, I should add right now, music as well, from an "angle". that, although unprecedented, is just the right "angle" for him. Perhaps this is the major reason for my feeling the same respect and admiration for his work that I do for Erroll Garner's, though they might seem poles apart to the casual listener. Each seems to me, as great as any man can be great, if he works true to his talents, neither over nor underestimating them and, most important, functions within his limitations.
You will experience an absolutely inimitable performance when you listen to this recording and bless the beauty of the fact that there just ain't no other like it. To exemplify this is a noble accomplishment and testimony to an exceptional, worthwhile life.
However, when I was privileged to be Teddy's student, he emphatically urged me to listen closely to Thelonious. This was in 1950, a time when Monk was considered by the jazz establishment (musicians included), to be an eccentric, off-the-wall pianist with a very limited technique. Teddy, always a most keen observer and listener, along with Coleman Hawkins and very few of their contemporaries, astutely perceived Monk's individuality and uniqueness. Teddy pointed out to me Monk's unusual sense of rhythm and said, "Pay attention to that." This advice would appear incongruous considering that Monk's spiky rhythmic conception sounded light years away from Wilson's immaculate, symmetrically structured and polished improvisations.
It is interesting to note that Monk as house pianist in his Minton's days displayed an obvious Wilson influence. His playing was more straight forward then and showed his roots in the swing era, which was about to give way to the innovations of Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke and, of course, Monk himself. Besides Teddy Wilson, Monk probably listened to many other pianists like Clarence Profit, a harmonically advanced artist, and Billy Kyle, another very rhythmic player. Of course, Thelonious's affection for the stride masters like James P. Johnson is well known.
Monk's contribution to what became BeBop is well documented, but he is on record as rejecting that label (Max Roach and many others also disliked the "bop" label). Monk did not consider himself a "bop" pianist. Indeed, his improvisations eschewed the lyrical, long-lined phrases favored by Bud Powell and his followers. Incidentally, Bud was a superb Monk interpreter and one of Monk's favorites. Melody was all important to Monk and his solos, no matter how abstract, never lost sight of the original theme. Playing variations on a tune was perfected by Louis Armstrong and, since he showed the way, this has always been a salient feature of the playing of almost all of the great improvisers, regardless of style or era.
Though Monk wasn't a bop player in the conventional sense, his harmonic and rhythmic contributions to [the then] new music, were essential. And, many of his compositions like 'Round Midnight, Straight, No Chaser, and In Walked Bud became jazz standards.
Concerning Monk's piano technique, or purported lack of it, I defy any pianist to duplicate his one-of-a-kind sound and rhythmic inflections. Even the most skilled transcribers have had great difficulty nailing down his quirky, elusive rhythms. This is partly due to Monk's concern with getting a "sound." This led him to search for ways to vocalize on the piano. He could almost bend notes and otherwise extract many different sonorities from the instrument, often using body language. It is my belief that had Monk been formally trained, he would have lost some originality because his technique is not dependent on European keyboard practices. His music is sometimes fiendishly difficult to play, partly because of the unorthodox fingering needed. Also, there are rhythms that only Monk could articulate convincingly.
Monk always reminds me of a sculptor at work with a hammer and chisel rather than an impressionist with a paintbrush. His natural gift for abstraction is reminiscent of Picasso's late period where that master's distortions of the human face revealed character that no photograph could. Monk's penchant for adding foreign or "wrong" notes to otherwise conventional voicings make an interesting parallel. Additionally, his sophisticated sense of space fit right in with his overall concept.
Jazz pianists are keenly aware of the different sets of demands that solo and group playing presents. When playing alone, creativity using silence is more difficult. You have to provide your own accompaniment by using the left hand in a way that produces a balance between the hands and, a feeling that nothing is missing. Monk's ability to do this allows the listener to follow his improvisations even when he omits seemingly crucial chords or melody notes.
Monk's solo performances were somewhat different from those with his group. When playing alone, he was more conservative - often using a loping stride left hand combined with melody-conscious abstract right hand variations. His solo ballads were more introspective and free. As you can hear, playing with a rhythm section inspired him to "comp" and solo in a much more space-oriented manner.
This was definitely one of Monk's greatest quartets; the music this group recorded on this CD is timeless and wonderful. Charlie Rouse was the perfect musical partner, an artist who understood. Monk's compositions and the importance of respecting the melody while soloing. Also, Ben. Riley and Larry Gales were a great team. They always knew how to support and enhance every unpredictable move of Monk's, and their conception of the pulse fits Rouse like a made-to-ordersuit.
The aforegoing is true of all the pieces on this CD except when Monk is playing alone, bf course.
LIZA - This Gershwin classic was a test piece for many pianists in the 20's and 30's and beyond. It is a harmonic obstacle course and pianists as diverse as James. P. Johnson and Al Haig have recorded it. Monk first recorded it in 1956 on his second Riverside session.
Noteworthy in this version is Monk and Rouse dividing the A sections into four bars each. Portions of Monk's solo sound almost pre-planned, which is all right with this writer because I believe that the end result is what matters most.
APRIL IN PARIS - Combines a Monk introspective solo that precedes Rouse and the rhythm section joining him. This shows his different approach to each situation.
CHILDREN'S SONG (THAT OLD MAN) - Only Thelonious would pick a children's song like this. The group's four-square rendition is delightful.
I LOVE YOU (SWEETHEART OF MY All MY DREAMS) - Was also issued on the CD "Monk Alone." It appears here because it was recorded the same day as "Liza," on October 6, 1964. When Monk played obscure oldies like this one, he often combined pathos with sardonic humor while outlining the melody almost in caricature. Note the rock-steady stride - shades of James P. Johnson.
JUST YOU, JUST ME - Shows Monk at his creative best. His inventive improvising behind Rouse is truly spontaneous composition, creating a complete part that could stand alone. Horace Silver and John Lewis are two other pianist-composers whose structured accompaniments were self-sufficient.
PANNONICA - Usually played solo by Monk features a beautifully developed solo by a soulful Charlie Rouse. Monk's variations on this classic ballad are, as they say, "choice."
TEO - Is a catchy 24-bar tune named for Teo Macero who originally produced these recordings.
The alternate takes of April In Paris and Pannonica are included so the listener can hear the fascinating differences. Which takes would you choose?
The medley of Just You, Just Me and Liza is really a one-time event.
After one chorus of Just You, Monk morphs imperceptibly into Liza behind Rouse who catches on fast. They stay with Liza until the very last chorus, which then reprises Just You. The way Rouse finds his way through the chordal labyrinth of the two songs is magical.
A word about Riley and Gales: They are the epitome of irresistible swinging throughout.
For recent and longtime Monk devotees, this CD is essential listening. And, for those just discovering Thelonious, his genius will be a revelation. To use the title of one of his famous compositions, the EVIDENCE is all here.
-Dick Katz (March 2002)