Compilation, 1947 - 1952 (recording)
For listeners unsure about diving into Monk's entire Blue Note catalog, this best-of roundup makes for a very fine alternative. Covering his bebop-era work from the late '40s and early '50s, the 16-track collection finds Monk in his early prime with such up-and-coming jazz standards as "Ruby, My Dear," "In Walked Bud," "'Round Midnight," and "Straight No Chaser." And unlike much of the pianist's later work on Riverside and Columbia, here the sound is compact and fleet, with some of the best solos to be heard on any classic bop date. One can especially credit the likes of Lou Donaldson, Lucky Thompson, Kenny Dorham, and Art Blakey for that. And there's several stellar sidemen and 12 sides of peak jazz still to mention.
- Stephen Cook
(All Music Guide)
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Thelonious Monk was nearly thirty when he made his first recording date (for Blue Note) and he was nearly forty when, thanks to the return of his cabaret license (which enabled him to play New York jazz clubs), the support of the fledlging Riverside Records and his short-lived quartet with John Coltrane, he achieved jazz recognition.
To some, Monk's music still sounds odd; to others, it is as natural as breathing. To Monk, it was always what he heard in his mind. What was controversial and weird in Monk's music to ears in the late forties and fifties was music that he had already been playing for fifteen years.
He is one of jazz's master architects and composers. His music is wholly original in concept, but still derived from the jazz tradition of the Harlem stride masters. It is always off-center, but it always swings.' He transcends idioms and eras. Monk's music, like Bach's or Ellington's or a handful of other's, is utterly timeless and seems wholly formed unto itself.
It was Ike Quebec who brought Monk to Blue Note in 1947. Alfred Lion was so astonished and captivated by his music that he recorded 14 songs over three sessions before he issued a single 78 to test the waters. And when those first records were issued, they were met with indifference, disdain or controversy in most sectors of the jazz community. Still Alfred persisted in recording Monk until 1952. Success was not forthcoming, but Monk laid down an awesome and essential body of work during that period. Historians look to the initial Blue Note recordings as his most powerful and lasting body of work.
16 solid pieces of evidence are contained herein. They are all first versions of tunes that Monk often re-recorded and which others have recorded without relief for the last three decades.
Some like "Straight No Chaser" and "Well You Needn't" are certified jazz standards and "'Round Midnight" is a standard that transcends any category at all. Still others remain underutilized. "Skippy", for example, is one of his most intricate and treacherous pieces. Monk rarely, if ever, performed it and it was not until the early eighties that dedicated Monkophiles Bennie Wallace and Buell Neidlinger were the first to record it after the original 1952 version.
Thelonious Monk's music is warm, irresistible and captivating. Here the cliche is true, this music provides a new and enriching experience every time it is heard. We will all still be coming to grips with Monk's genius for decades.