Night Lights Classic Jazz

Side Monk: Thelonious Monk As Sideman

Thelonious Monk must have provided easy inspiration for the title-namer of his 1956 Riverside album, The Unique Thelonious Monk.

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Thelonious MonkAs a musician and a man, Thelonious Monk must have provided easy inspiration for the title-namer of his 1956 Riverside album, The Unique Thelonious Monk. His singular sound on the piano, his inability to perform in New York City for several years (due to NYC’s cabaret laws), and his unorthodox compositions that sounded like urban spirituals filtered through stride and bop, nodding at some strange deity of cool, all contributed to a relatively low profile until the late 1950s, when his star suddenly began to ascend into a wider popular culture.

Monk’s style was so strong that it’s not surprising that he rarely performed as a sideman–as pianist Ran Blake noted, “There’s never any doubt who’s at the keyboard…it may be a delayed attack on a chord, a cluster that pounces like a tornado, or a jagged snippet that asserts itself under a number of guises.”

This program focuses on those few sideman appearances, featuring early performances with Coleman Hawkins and Dizzy Gillespie‘s big band (a rare airshot of the pianist’s “Round Midnight”), as well as trumpeter Clark Terry, saxophonist Gigi Gryce, and Monk’s legendary Christmas Eve 1954 encounter with Miles Davis.

In honor of what would have been Thelonious Monk’s 90th birthday (Oct. 10), Duke University is hosting a six-week celebration of Monk’s life and music. Here’s Monk in 1961 performing his composition “Rhythm-a-ning”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XCTU2aIfl8

Music Heard On This Episode

Brake's Sake
Gigi Gryce — Nica's Tempo (Savoy, 1955)
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Brake's Sake
Gigi Gryce — Nica's Tempo (Savoy, 1955)

Notes: Thelonious Monk composition, with Monk on piano.

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Flyin' Hawk
Coleman Hawkins — Bean and the Boys (Prestige, 1944)

Notes: With Thelonious Monk on piano.

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Round Midnight
Dizzy Gillespie — Legendary Big Band Live in 1946 (Bandstand, 1946)

Notes: With composer Thelonious Monk on piano.

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Bloomdido
Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie — Bird and Diz (Verve, 1950)

Notes: With Thelonious Monk on piano.

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Nica's Tempo
Gigi Gryce — Nica's Tempo (Savoy, 1955)

Notes: Gryce composition, with Thelonious Monk on piano.

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Pea's Eye
Clark Terry — In Orbit (Riverside, 1958)

Notes: Midpoint music bed. With Thelonious Monk on piano.

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Bags' Groove
Miles Davis — Bags' Groove (Prestige, 1954)

Notes: Milt Jackson composition. With Thelonious Monk on piano.

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In Orbit
Clark Terry — In Orbit (Riverside, 1958)

Notes: With Thelonious Monk on piano.

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Moonlight Fiesta
Clark Terry — In Orbit (Riverside, 1958)

Notes: With Thelonious Monk on piano.

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Reflections
Sonny Rollins — V. 2 (Blue Note, 1957)

Notes: Thelonious Monk composition, with Monk on piano.

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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • Bill Forbes

    Monk’s idiosyncratic piano style clearly made him far from universally acceptable as a sideman, as is shown by the very different reactions of Miles and Rollins, which the show notes. There was an echo of these differing responses in Britain in the 1960s when visiting American soloists found themselves playing with the Ronnie Scott club’s very Monkish resident pianist, Stan Tracey. Stan Getz’s reaction to Tracey is now a notorious footnote in British jazz history, but Rollins was quite at ease with Tracey, as can be heard on Nightlight’s Sonny Rollins: Live in London (2007-05-05). How integrated they sound on the theme statement of Monk’s “Nutty”! Was this number added to the program because of their mutual enthusiasm for Monk, I wonder?

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