Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane

Two Seminal Titles Help Relaunch Original Jazz Classics Imprint

Legendary jazz reissue imprint reboots with pivotal recordings from the Miles Davis Quintet and the brilliantly collaborative Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane.

Workin' with the Miles Davis Quintet
The Miles Davis Quintet
Craft Recordings
12 May 2023
Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane
Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane
Craft Recordings
26 May 2023

The years from 1956 to 1958 included some of the most groundbreaking and innovative moments in all types of entertainment, especially music. Of course, the transition from rhythm and blues and country into what became rock ‘n’ roll would eventually lead the way commercially, but jazz was taking, to borrow a term from one of its hottest young practitioners, giant steps of its own.

Now, two pivotal albums in the world of jazz recorded during that era are being reissued as Craft Recordings relaunches the Original Jazz Classics series, Workin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet and Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane. Both albums were inspired by long nights at sweaty New York City jazz clubs surrounded by sympathetic and adventurous players whose names have become chiseled into our collective subconscious. In addition to Miles, Monk, and Trane, Art Blakey, Paul Chambers, Ray Copeland, Red Garland, Gigi Gryce, Coleman Hawkins, “Philly” Joe Jones, Wilbur Ware, and Shadow Wilson all appear somewhere in these grooves.

As a reissue label, Original Jazz Classics started under Fantasy Records in 1982, just in time to capitalize on the fledgling CD market (which would take hold within a year), making available offerings from their jazz catalog, which had by then acquired titles from Contemporary, Debut, Galaxy, Jazzland, Milestone, Prestige, Pablo, and Riverside. They’re setting a high bar by relaunching the imprint with Workin’ (from Prestige) and Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (on Jazzland).

The Miles Davis Quintet was known to cause a stir in Greenwich Village at the Café Bohemia, which quickly became a home to celebrated jazz artists from Art Blakey to Charles Mingus. Formed in 1955 at the behest of an executive at Columbia Records, Davis’ first great quintet included – along with Davis on trumpet – Sonny Rollins on tenor sax, Garland on piano, Chambers on bass, and Jones on drums. Rollins, who was battling heroin addiction at the time, left and, at the recommendation of Jones, was replaced by Coltrane. Their performances at the Bohemia during this time quickly became legendary. Although Davis had by now signed with Columbia, he was still contractually obligated to deliver a handful of more sides for Prestige. After recording the material that made up the first of these discs, Miles: The New Miles Davis Quintet, in November of 1955, the group assembled at Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack, New Jersey studio on 11 May and 26 October 1956 to perform what became four legendary releases: Cookin’, Relaxin’, Workin’, and Steamin’ (each hip-sounding verb followed by With the Miles Davis Quintet to complete its respective title).

Throughout all the Prestige sides, the quintet performed the material they had worked up during those hot, cramped nights at the Café Bohemia; jazz and pop standards sprinkled with an original here and there from Davis or Coltrane. With Workin’, the third of the fourth recorded during those two marathon sessions (actually, only the Davis original “Half Nelson” was recorded on the October date), the telekinetic ability of the musicians in the room is remarkable. The interplay between Chambers and Jones as they dance while anchoring Garland, Coltrane, and Davis still sounds exciting and urgent, and with this reissue, the fidelity brings forth the power of these performances as if we might be sharing the room with them.

The following summer, Coltrane began performing just over a mile away in the Bowery at the legendary Five Spot. There he teamed up with fellow North Carolina native Thelonious Monk for a six-month residency that in part inspired and resulted in half the tracks that make up Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane. Monk and ‘Trane were joined by the dangerous rhythm section of Wilson on drums and Ware on bass. The three performances captured by this quartet, “Ruby, My Dear”, “Tinkle, Tinkle”, and “Nutty”, are paired with material pulled from two other sessions recorded in April and June of the same year by Monk with Gryce on alto, Hawkins and Coltrane on tenor, and Copeland on trumpet. The performances are given new clarity on this reissue, not by studio trickery, but by allowing them to be heard as originally intended.

The original master tapes were used for both reissues, and all-analog mastering was handled by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio. Each release is pressed on heavy 180-gram vinyl, and the packaging has captured every detail of the original pressings, including the hard-stock cardboard jackets with original liner notes and credits. Each is encased in an Original Jazz Classics tip-on jacket. They’re also reissued digitally in 192/24 HD audio for serious audiophiles. The mastering has captured the essence of the original performances. Every note jumps. Paul Chambers’ and Wilbur Ware’s basses are clear and deep. The cymbals are sharp. Garland and Monk’s ivories dance brightly from the speakers. The horns punch, slide, flutter, and sway throughout.

Both releases are a treasure for jazz fans who won’t have to search for original pressings. Pressings that can fetch up to three figures in the marketplace (if not more) despite, in many cases, being riddled with surface noise, skips, and scratches. For the curious, it’s also a fine gateway into the worlds of these jazz titans recorded at the collective height of their improvisational powers within just a couple of years. These years saw many impactful and lasting changes in music.

RATING 10 / 10