Sunday, January 18, 2015

Listening to Prestige Records Part 73: Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk back in the studio with the same instrumentation as the October 15 date, with Max Roach replacing Art Blakey on drums -- and in my previous entry, I seem to have gotten a whole bunch wrong. I rely for my discographic information on, a Japanese website that has done a fantastic job of compiling information, and I owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude -- I would never even have been able to begin this blog project without them. And I have to apologize to them -- I believe I misread or misunderstood part of their notation system. On their record label pages, they list session by session, chronogically, and every release from each session, from early 78s through 45s through 10 and 12-inch LPs to later reissues. But on their artist pages, which is where I went for the Monk/Blue Note information, they only list album releases, which is why I mistakenly said that Blue Note did not seem to have released Monk's 1947 sessions till years later.

In the jazzdisco page for Blue Note's 78 RPM releases, the information is there; it's also on the Blue Note page of another website,

Bob Weinstock, in an interview with musician James Rozzi, recalls how he got interested in modern jazz -- and how he decided to start his own label.

I had a record store before I started recording, and I carried every jazz artist you could think of. One day Alfred Lion, who ran Blue Note Records, came in and said, “I have something new: Thelonious Monk.” I said, “What the hell's that?” Alfred said, “It's bebop.” I listened to it and the more I listened, I realized it had a charm to it. It was interesting. I was strictly into swing at the time. Beboppers were calling people like us moldy figs. The next thing I knew, I became obsessed with bebop.
And a side note, from the same interview -- what was the relationship between Bob Weinstock and Alfred Lion, these two giants of jazz recording in their era?

I loved those Blue Note records. Even before I was in the business, Alfred Lion was my hero. The man was a giant. He had integrity. He made a fine product...
Anyway, Thelonious Monk is an extraordinary introduction to bebop. An extraordinary talent, and extraordinarily unlike anyone else. Which may explain why, when Weinstock arranged his first session, he chose Lennie Tristano, someone else who was unlike anyone else, but in a different way. Which, I suppose, goes without saying. If you're unlike anyone else, you're going to be unlike anyone else who's unlike anyone else. But I digress.

Weinstock, with his "let 'em play" recording philosophy, lets Monk play. With just a trio, so it's all Monk. And nearly three quarters of a century later, Monk still has the capacity to startle. This session has three originals and a standard, and it feels like just the right mix. Monk was such a brilliant composer. And listening to him create an improvisation around "These Foolish Things" gives a real insight into how he approaches a tune.

This is really a continuation of the October session, and a brilliant continuation.These Prestige sessions were the first recordings of a number of Monk classics. "Bemsha Swing" has become a jazz standard, recorded by a galaxy of jazz stars -- and even a rock group, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, in a version that's not bad. For a moment, I thought there was an even more unlikely version, when I read the name of Peter Weniger, the German tenor sax man, as "Porter Wagoner." I haven't been able to find out what "Bemsha" means, although I have found several websites where people complain that they can't find out what "Bemsha" means.

"Trinkle Tinkle" and "These Foolish Things" were released on 78, and all four cuts on the 10-inch LP that also contained the tunes from the first session.

No comments: