Thelonious Monk: Palo Alto

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There are no bad recordings of pianist Thelonious Monk together with tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse. Well, maybe two—when they were in a top-notch group assembled in the late 1940s to back a so-so vocalist named Frankie Passions, who recorded two lackluster pop songs. But starting in the fall of 1958, at New York's Five Spot, they began a working and recording relationship that lasted until 1969. Fortunately for us, most of their sessions were live.

A new entry in the Monk-Rouse live canon entitled Palo Alto recently was released. The CD and vinyl came out in June on Impulse while the download was released last week by Legacy. The previously unissued material was captured at a performance Monk gave the afternoon of  October 27, 1968 at Palo Alto High School in California. A wise janitor asked if he could record the gig if he tuned the piano, and Danny Scher, a senior at the school who produced concerts there, wisely let him. Danny, of course, would go on to work with concert impresario Bill Graham as his right-hand man for 24 years.

But there were complications. Unsure if Monk would appear, Danny called him up two days before the gig. Here's the story from Danny's liner notes...

People were skeptical that Monk would ever show up, so two days before the concert I called him at San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop where he was performing and I wasn't old enough to enter. I never received a fully executed contract.

Monk said he knew nothing about the concert and wondered how he would even get to Palo Alto and back for his evening Jazz Workshop performance. I said that my brother, Les, was old enough to drive to San Francisco and pick up him and his band and return them in time for that evening’s performance.

Monk agreed to have Les picking up the group and drive them back. What you hear on the new album is what followed. The tracks are Ruby, My Dear, Well, You Needn’t (with a terrific arco solo by bassist Larry Gales and a crisp drum solo by Ben Riley), Don’t Blame Me, Blue Monk, Epistrophy and I Love You Sweetheart of All My Dreams, which the quartet had recorded in 1964 for Columbia's Monk album.

The sound of this new release is excellent, and the quartet's playing is assertive, outgoing and generous. Monk's piano, in particular, was jumping, with notes going off like packs of firecrackers. Rouse, Gales and Riley also were on their game. Leaving one to wonder whether the group's shoulders leaning into the music had something to do with Danny and his family.

Few tickets had sold by the time Danny's brother, Les, returned from San Francisco with the quartet, the bass sticking out the window. When people milling around the parking lot saw the band, that changed. “People went to the box office and bought tickets," Danny writes. “The show sold out, but Monk was hungry. My parents went across the street and brought back food for him and the band."

Danny and his family were those kind of people.

JazzWax clips: Here's Well You Needn't...



Here's a mini-doc about the album...

Continue Reading...

This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.

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