[JPL] Monk-Coltrane sessions a piece of jazz history

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Fri Jul 14 21:58:51 EDT 2006


Monk-Coltrane sessions a piece of jazz history
Column by Jim Harrington
Inside Bay Area

'THELONIOUS Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall" was the most 
widely acclaimed jazz disc released last year.

Most recently, this live recording of a 1957 concert ­ which, amazingly, 
sat undiscovered in an unmarked box in the Library of Congress for nearly 
50 years ­ won album of the year at the 2006 Jazz Journalists Association 
Jazz Awards.

It just goes to show that the more things change in jazz, the more they 
stay the same. Here we are in 2006 ­ yup, I just checked my Oakland A's 
calendar, and it is indeed 2006 ­ and Coltrane and Monk still rank as two 
of the most popular jazzers on the planet.

Coltrane, of course, never goes out of high style ­ the saxophonist's 
immortal "A Love Supreme" probably introduces more newcomers to jazz than 
any other single work besides Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue." (I would be 
interested in hearing from readers whether, if they could have only one of 
the two albums, they'd pick "Supreme" or "Blue." I'd go with "Blue," but, 
then again, I'm a trumpet junkie and Miles is my guy.)

On the other hand, Monk doesn't often get the kind of widespread love 
bestowed on, say, Miles, Trane and Billie Holiday ­ although, arguably, his 
contributions to the art form were even greater. Monk ranks just behind 
Miles on my list of all-time favorite jazz musicians, so I'm very happy to 
see that at least a portion of the general public is once again excited 
about the pianist.

Still, it probably won't last. Good taste, in my experience with the 
record-buying public, rarely does. Before long, some of those same people 
that picked up "Carnegie Hall" will return to their Maroon 5 and Dixie 
Chicks CDs.

That doesn't mean we can't savor the moment and, indeed, try to stretch it 
out a bit. It's with that endeavor in mind that I present to you "The 
Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings." If you thought "Carnegie" was great ­ 
this set of studio recordings by Monk and Monk's men (which included 
Coltrane at the time) should really float your boat.

OK, let's back up a bit and set the scene.

The year was 1957 and Monk was on the verge of becoming one of the biggest 
jazz stars in the country. He was already one of its best and most 
original, having fully developed a highly singular approach to the keys ­ 
which was more about feel and space than about Bud Powell-style dizzying 
hand speed ­ by the mid-'40s. The majority of critics and jazz fans just 
didn't get Monk at that point, assuming that he was an inferior musician 
because he refused to conform to the jazz aesthetic of the day.

Fortunes changed when Monk's quartet was booked for a five-month run at New 
York's fabled Five Spot Caf in 1957, which lasted from July to December. It 
was during that residency that both the public and critics really "got" 
Monk. Once they got him, they didn't let go. Monk's popularity continued to 
swell during the next decade ­ to the point where Time magazine put the 
pianist-vocalist on its cover in 1964.

Meanwhile in Coltrane's world, the saxophonist had just been fired from the 
Miles Davis Quintet, reportedly due to his heroin problem, and had just 
started recording as a leader. The invitation to join Monk's band came just 
as Trane was really coming into his own as aplayer. By the time the group's 
residency at the Five Spot was over, Coltrane was well on his way to 
reaching jazz immortality.

Yet, before Monk and Trane ever checked into the Five Spot, they would hit 
the studio to record some tracks. In the spring and summer of 1957, they 
met on four occasions to work on material with producer-extraordinaire 
Orrin Keepnews for the Riverside label.

The wonderful results of those meetings is what you'll find on "The 
Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings." The two-disc set is "complete" in more 
ways than one. In collecting everything from those sessions, the discs 
simultaneously present the sum total of the studio output that Monk and 
Trane recorded together. In other words, the pair would never join forces 
again except on the live stage.

Big Monk fans will be familiar with many of the recordings included here ­ 
for example, this version of the ballad "Monk's Mood" was originally 
released on "Thelonious Himself" and a number of the songs recorded during 
this time would grace "Monk's Music." There are, however, a few previously 
unreleased alternative takes, including a version of "Crepuscule with 
Nellie" that was recorded with Coleman Hawkins and Art Blakely. That would 
be enough to get me to buy the CD.

The set also includes a newly penned, and very revealing, essay from 
Keepnews about the making of the music. It's particularly interesting to 
read his thoughts about the Five Spot run.

"What I found most impressive," the Bay Area resident writes, "was how 
immediately jazz fans with a sense of history were making comparisons to an 
event a quarter-century earlier, when the major New Orleans cornetist (Joe 
"King" Oliver) of that era had summoned his protg ­ 22-year-old Louis 
Armstrong ­ to join his band at a club in Chicago."

That is impressive, Orrin. Upon listening to the "Riverside Recordings," 
however, the analogy seems highly appropriate.

Write jazz critic Jim Harrington at 
<mailto:jharrington at angnewspapers.com>jharrington at angnewspapers.com. For 
more jazz, visit 
<http://www.insidebayarea.com/jimharrington>http://www.insidebayarea.com/jimharrington.


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