Music

Thelonious Monk: Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival

The vintage, never-before-released outing from the a high point of Monk's career


Thelonious Monk

Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival

Contributors: Thelonious Monk, Charlie Rouse, Steve Swallow, Ben Riley
Label: Monterey Jazz Festival Records
US Release Date: 2007-07-31
UK Release Date: 2007-07-30
Amazon
iTunes

Jazz happens in the moment. Its crucial ingredient, in most cases, is improvisation. No other western music is so thoroughly grounded in spontaneity.

Jazz, they say, is "the sound of surprise" and so some have argued that recording jazz musicians in the studio and locking their solos into permanent grooves just isn't right. If you haven't been to a concert or club, seeing and feeling the act of improvisation in the moment, you haven't really heard jazz.

Most of us, still, are deeply appreciative of jazz recordings. But for the magic of the 78, the LP, and the CD, I'd have never heard the rip of Armstrong's cornet, the flurry of Bird's alto sax, or the skittering invention of Monk's piano. In particular, recordings of live performances can capture the special sense of how a jazz band breathes together in action. They can do a decent job of putting you in the moment.

And now comes a series of live recordings long kept in a vault somewhere, recordings of jazz masters made under strong conditions during what turns to have been a golden age for the music. Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival captures the genius pianist and composer Thelonious Monk during a time when the world was finally digging him and Monk was basking in the attention.

Seven months before this concert at the legendary Monterey festival, Monk had appeared on the cover of Time magazine. (To mull what a time this was for jazz, consider the likelihood that a real jazz musician might appear on Time's cover any time in the coming decades. You may begin weeping now.) His quartet, with Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, Ben Riley on drums and (sitting in on this day) Steve Swallow on bass, was stable and established. Indeed, Monk was playing all over the world by 1964, with big band arrangements of his music supplementing the small group fairly often, including on this autumn day.

The repertoire for this concert is all you could want: "Blue Monk", "Evidence", "Bright Mississippi", "Rhythm-a-ning", and then with the five additional horns "Think of One" and "Straight, No Chaser". It is a program of straight-ahead bebop of the Monkian variety. Though the rhythm section drives forward at mid-to-quick tempo on every track, it trots with typically Monkish panache and style. It stutters and sashays, skips and skitters, all without actually losing its sense of drive. All of this goes without saying. Since this music was recorded, Thelonious Monk has been universally acclaimed as one of the great figures of American music. We have consensus. This is Monk. This music is, almost by definition, great.

Still, with this concert being released for the very first time 43 years after the fact, the question arises. Is this a particular find, a lost gem?

Honestly, as good as it is, this music is no revelation. It is just a perfectly terrific Monk performance from this period. While there is some novelty value in hearing the group with substitute bassist Swallow, the character of the music is identical to the fine albums made around this time on Columbia Records. Rouse plays with a terse drive, pushing out his clipped blues phrases with characteristic vinegar tone. Riley achieves his usual impossible task of capturing Monk's oddly drunk pulse without breaking the flow.

The pianist plays with indisputable command and wit. Whether in the ensemble sections or in his solos, Monk plays the whole band as easily as he plays his piano, wrangling all the music to his quirky impulses. Unlike his friend and contemporary Bud Powell, Monk did not throw out older styles as he adapted the piano to the new bop aesthetic. As a result, Monk echoes stride and swing playing as much as he shocks us with his angular newness. At Monterey, Monk seems perfectly free and playful.

For the last two tunes of the concert, the quartet is joined by five additional west coast horns, two reeds and three brasses. It's the kind of thing that was happening to Monk at the time, and the added power sits well on top of the band. The players roll over the melodies easily, showing the extent to which Monk's oddball sensibility had become mainstream by '64.

So it was a terrific concert from the Thelonious Monk Quartet. It would have been great to have been there, and you can relive the experience now. But it was one of many from the time, a time when the Monk band was certainly consistently excellent. Forty years on, it's nice to hear. It's not going to shake up your view of Monk or jazz in 1964, but your opinion of both should have been pretty high to begin with.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

9
Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.