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April 11, 2011

Jazz Messengers With Thelonious Monk

Forgive my negligence to the blog (a sentence I feel I type far too often here). March was sort of a dud month for me. I've been transitioning into a new job this late winter and have been wedding planning as well. Just exhausting much of my time. Oddly enough, part of me new job is getting paid to blog.

I was inspired by Ethan Iverson to have spend some time with Thelonious Monk's and the Jazz Messengers' 1957 Atlantic recording, simply titled, Jazz Messengers With Thelonious Monk. A recording that I spent, rightfully so, spinning far too much in my earlier Jazz listening days.

Monk's timing here along with the dissonance in his phrasing pairs so nicely with Blakey's heavy rhythms. And unlike earlier when Blakey had recording with Monk before, he shows his power and leadership. But honestly, the album is a true standout when it comes to Johnny Griffin. He shines as a soloist, playing what I think is some of his best soloing here.

Back to Iverson's recent blog post, he defended Monk as a performer. Now bare in mind that I witnessed Lou Donaldson knock Monk down when Donaldson spoke at the 2009 Portland Jazz Festival. Anyway, Ethan Iverson just saw Martial Solal speak at the Village Vanguard before a gig in which Solal dismissed Monk as a performing pianist:

Solal said he was impressed that Monk wore a hat onstage, but obviously Monk wasn’t a serious pianist. A composer, sure, but not someone who could make it in the Conservatoire.
Solal is not the only virtuoso who has dismissed Monk. Oscar Peterson and Lennie Tristano did as well. Still, I was deeply offended that Solal chose this time and place, the last gig of the Monk series, to air this opinion. When will Thelonious Sphere Monk get the respect he deserves?

I enjoyed this part of Iverson's rebuttal:
Monk's material is always derived from the purest of jazz traditions, but his displaced accents and stark voicings are sometimes thought of as connected to European modernism. Indeed, Monk is a father figure to the avant-garde. But Monk’s own music is not pointillist, Webern-esque, or even particularly abstract. It is hardcore jazz with roots in the blues and Kansas City swing. Getting abstract with Monk can work -- the George Russell/Eric Dolphy "'Round Midnight" comes to mind -- but to do so takes serious consideration.

Monk’s surrealism has been interpreted as clowning around or startling. “Oh, look! I just clanged a minor second! Isn’t that funny!” The Tom Lord discography lists songs called, “Monkin’ Around,” “Monkin’ Business,” “Monk-ing Around,” and “Monking Business.” To the composers of these works I say: Fuck you. Monk nevermonkeyed around or did any monkey business. Sure, some of his renditions of standards like “Remember” or “Just A Gigolo” are among the greatest examples of jazz surrealism ever recorded. But they are still serious. And his clanging minor seconds come straight from boogie-woogie and Harlem stride, not the circus.

Naturally I side with Ethan Iverson here. My ears have always been drawn not only to Monk's compositions but also the way he played them. His timing, phrasing, dissonance, chords, rhythmic backing, you name it. I also particularly enjoyed when Iverson mentioned Steve Lacy's Evidence as one of the greatest Monk interpretations out there. Where, I enjoy his Reflections LP more, I do agree that no one can/could really interpret Monk tunes quite like the great Steve Lacy could.
1957 Recorded / 1958 Released - Atlantic.
Art Blakey - Drums; Thelonious Monk - Piano; Johnny Griffin - Tenor Sax; Bill Hardman - Trumpet; Spanky Debrest - Bass.

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