Influential jazz pianist Thelonious Monk was born one hundred years ago today, on 10 October 1917. His angular melodies and signature percussive style were an important contribution to the development of bebop in the post-war era. Popular titles such as ‘Round Midnight’, ‘Blue Monk’, and ‘Straight, No Chaser’ are considered standards in the jazz canon.

In a recent interview for Keyboard, popular jazz writer Ashley Kahn (Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis MasterpieceA Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album) discusses the legacy of Monk’s life and compositions on the development of modern music:

“What happened from the late ‘30s into the early ‘40s at the hands of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, etc., is that someone had to be there to kind of codify it. Someone had to be there to give it a sense of it being a system that could be learned and appropriated and shared and passed on. And the best person for all of this was someone, obviously, who was going to be sitting at a keyboard, because a chordal instrument is obviously going to be better than trying to do this on a melody instrument. And Thelonious Monk was that person.”

— Ashley Kahn, Keyboard
For newcomers to Thelonious Monk, there’s the question of where to begin. If you’re interested in the composer’s complex life, Robin D. G. Kelley‘s Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original is an excellent place to start. Listeners are typically recommended volumes one and two of Monk’s Blue Note sessions, which span 1947 to 1952, and there’s little doubt that they offer the definitive introduction to his exuberant and idiosyncratic style. My first Monk record was his later solo album, Thelonious Alone in San Francisco (Riverside, 1959); while it might not be characteristic of his bustling, energetic group work, the album’s reflective mood still resonates with me all these years later.

Celebrating one of the leading composers and performers in the history of jazz
Actual print used on the cover of A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965)
Actual print used on the cover of A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965)

This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of John Coltrane. When he died of liver cancer on 17 July 1967, the composer and saxophonist had established a reputation as one of the leading figures in jazz music. While on the rise, he played as sideman on records by Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk. He found popular success as a leader with records such as Blue Train (Blue Note, 1957), My Favorite Things (Atlantic, 1961), and his 1965 masterpiece, A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965). In addition to his commercial viability as a composer and performer, Coltrane was known for his searching sound and his increasing commitment to free jazz improvisation through the 1960s. (more…)

The avant-garde reedist’s iconic outing for Blue Note Records was recorded on this day in 1964
Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch! (Blue Note, 1964)
Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch! (Blue Note, 1964)

On this day in 1964, Eric Dolphy entered Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, to record one of Blue Note Records’ most distinctive and iconic records. Joined by Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Bobby Hutchinson (vibraphone), Richard Davis (bass) and an eighteen-year-old Anthony Williams (drums), Dolphy brought along his alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and flute for the date.

Out to Lunch! is the culmination of a sequence of recordings that explored the possibilities of avant-garde jazz in the early 1960s, from Dolphy’s first album as leader, Outward Bound (New Jazz, 1960), to Out There (New Jazz, 1960), to his 1961 recordings at the Five Spot and 1962’s Far Cry (New Jazz). Across these works we can hear the artistic development of Dolphy as a restless and inventive talent. Out to Lunch! nods a debt to bebop in its tribute to pianist Thelonious Monk (‘Hat and Beard’), and acknowledges the classical flautist Severino Gazzelloni (‘Gazzelloni’), but while the album negotiates the legacy of bebop and post-bop music it simultaneously reaches towards freer musical forms. (more…)

It’s a little known fact that bebop trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie actually ran for president of the United States back in 1964:

“What began as one of Dizzy’s famous practical jokes, and a way to raise money for CORE (Congress for Racial Equality) and other civil rights organizations became something more, a way for Dizzy’s fans to imagine an alternative to the “millionaire’s-only” club represented by Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater.”

Open Culture

The White House, henceforth to be known as the ‘Blues House’ would comprise the following cabinet: (more…)

Alex Belth introduces a profile of the jazz singer taken from Jazz Is
billie-holiday.jpg
Billie Holiday

When I first started listening to jazz I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know how I’d ever be able to tell the difference between Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan, didn’t know how I’d ever determine the difference between John Coltrane and someone imitating Coltrane. I’m still an amateur but I can tell you this: the first performers I could identify by ear were Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, and Billie Holiday. Their sound is so specific, so singular, that even to the untrained ear, they are identifiable.

We’re lucky that Nat Hentoff was on hand to record so much of the Jazz scene in the ’50s and ’60s, and here he cuts through the popular mythology that often obscures Holiday’s great talent and shows us the depth of her musical gift. [Read More]

Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
An excerpt from a 2011 interview with Chris Richards (The Washington Post)

Mature, precocious, cultured and determined. Aside from a few summers in Maryland, Rollins spent his childhood in Harlem, a cultural epicenter that would shape him into a jazz icon who would steer the trajectory of the genre and the concept of improvisation writ large. As Rollins looks back, the chapters of his life often slice into neat little halves — separate realities where he toggled between success and struggle, renown and solitude. He apprenticed with the bop gods (Charlie Parker, Miles Davis) while battling the dark forces of addiction. At his highest levels of acclaim, he took mysterious sabbaticals that felt like vanishing acts. Today, Rollins says he gets through “this world full of problems” by reaching for higher spiritual plateaus that he “can almost touch,” but never quite does. (more…)