J.R. Monterose is a saxophonist rarely heard even by jazz fans, and his most well-known recording, Charles Mingus’ Pithecanthropus Erectus, is one that Monterose himself later all but disowned. He recorded only sporadically as a leader and withdrew from the jazz world several times, woodshedding or playing in towns distant from the music’s metropolitan centers. His sound, although influenced by other tenor horns such as Chu Berry and Sonny Rollins, was all his own, airy and full of weight at the same time, and rife with pleasing, weaving turns of phrase and a compelling, hard-edged honesty.
Monterose was active as a sideman during the mid-1950s (a full discography of his career can be viewed here), playing and recording with Mingus, vibraphonist Teddy Charles, pianist George Wallington, and trumpeter Kenny Dorham. We’ll hear several of those recordings and others from dates led by Monterose himself, up to the 1964 album In Action.