Tag Archives: bebop

Crepuscule with Thelonious


A half-century ago, jazz great Thelonious Monk led a 10-piece orchestra in a performance at New York’s Town Hall that marked the first time his music had been played by a large ensemble. The concert, which Monk considered one of the proudest moments of his career, yielded a classic live album that I wouldn’t recommend as a starting point for Monk novices, but is a must-hear for anyone familiar with the songs in their original small-group settings.

A couple of weeks ago, trumpeter Charles Tolliver and pianist Jason Moran led a pair of tribute concerts at Town Hall that duplicated the songlist, though not the performances, of Monk’s one-night stand. Fred Kaplan, whose writings about jazz are among the few reasons to pay much attention to Slate, has shrewd things to say  about the performances themselves, as well as the tricky business of trying to replicate recordings of music based on improvisation — especially an improviser with a style as idiosyncratic as Monk.  

As for the actual tribute concerts, NPR has posted a recording of Charles Tolliver’s night that should make for good listening while you check your e-mails.

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Blue Monday

I believe it was Gary Giddins who called Johnny Griffin “the last of the Chicago speedballs,” and as the above clip of him performing “56” demonstrates, Griffin could leave most other saxophonists in the dust. But Griffin — who died last week at the age of 80 — had other cards up his sleeze. His 1961 tribute to Thelonious Monk, Lookin’ at Monk with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, showed everyone a new way to appreciate monk’s artistry, and in later years Griffin’s sound mellowed like an old meerschaum. Tyros should start with Way Out, a 1958 quartet recording that showcases every angle of Griffin’s artistry, and then start exploring.

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