This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Today's column might be a bit challenging for people who aren't as in love with the music of THELONIOUS MONK as I am. He is my all time favorite jazz pianist, one who I managed to see a couple of times as he came out to this wide brown land in the sixties.
Monk's music is replete with dissonant harmonies and strange twists as if he were anticipating classical music of the mid-twentieth century. Only Duke Ellington, of all jazz composers, has had more of his compositions recorded by others. It's not others I'm interested in. I like to hear the real thing, and so will you if you stick with me.
Most of the music today was composed by Thelonious, including this one, Hackensack, presumably named after the place in New Jersey.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes was written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach back in 1933. The Platters’ version is the best as far as I’m concerned. Monk puts his distinctive take on the tune.
In Walked Bud is a tribute to his friend and fellow jazz pianist Bud Powell. It seems that Bud once tried to stop police from beating Thelonious but there are varying accounts of what happened next.
Whatever happened, Bud received a severe beating himself that troubled him for the rest of his life, probably causing him to turn to drink and drugs. Thelonious recorded the tune several times, the last one with the great jazz singer JON HENDRIX supplying vocals.
Just a Gigolo was written by Leonello Casucci and Julius Brammer in 1924, and was originally called Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo. Irving Caesar supplied English words to it in 1929, and gave it its English title. It’s been recorded often, but never like this.
Straight No Chaser is another of his compositions. It features his long time tenor sax player CHARLIE ROUSE.
GERRY MULLIGAN was THE baritone sax player in jazz.
He started out in California but eventually played with everyone who mattered. He was a main participant in the famous “Birth of the Cool” sessions with Miles Davis. He probably wrote more of that than he is generally credited with.
Here he teams with Thelonious on one of Monk’s most famous tunes, Round Midnight. Everyone’s had a go at this one.
Thanks to the Columbia Record Club (remember that?), the first album of Monk’s that I owned is “Monk’s Dream”. From that album, here is the title track. Charlie Rouse features on this one too.
Duke Ellington knew his way around a piano keyboard. He also knew how to write a good tune or two. Just like everyone else in jazz (and a lot elsewhere) Thelonious tackles one of his tunes, It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing).
JOHN COLTRANE joins the fray now.
He and Thelonious play Ruby, My Dear, a tune named for Monk’s first love (or so he said). It later had words written for it and Carmen McRae recorded a fine version, but it’s Monk and Coltrane today.
Here is the first appearance on record of Charlie Rouse with Monk. It also has Thad Jones on cornet. The tune labors under the awkward name of Jackie-ing.
It has nothing to do with his music, and he was famous for this: he really liked hats. Just thought I’d mention it.
Thelonious recorded quite a few solo albums, just him playing piano. I guess it meant that no one had to anticipate where he was going with his playing, which, if you’ve listened all the way until now, can be quite an exercise.
From his complete solo recordings compilation we have the old standard, These Foolish Things.