Monday, June 1, 2009

Monk Lives

This is one of those weeks when I've been having trouble deciding on a topic for my latest post. As I'm typing this, Thelonious Monk is playing "Think of One" on Music Choice. Monk--one of those artists who can take a listener feeling dragged to the ground and lift them up with just a few notes of his audacious but endearing playing which sounds like nobody else's. He could do an entire album of Duke Ellington songs and play them in a way that made them seem more Monkish than Dukish. Then there are his original songs infused so deeply with his unique personality that no matter who plays them, Monk is always there in spirit.

Monk's music has remained such a vital part of the jazz landscape that even Sun Ra, former citizen of ancient Egypt who migrated to Saturn before visiting earth, had his own turn at "Round Midnight" with a female vocalist singing the lyrics. Bill Evans performed "Blue Monk" and "Round Midnight," utilizing overdubs, on his album, "Conversations with Myself." More recently, I've heard new spins on Thelonious' songs by such younger pianists as Misha Piatigorsky and George Colligan. Definitely not slavish imitations of the Monk sound, but reflecting the musical visions of each of these artists while still maintaining respect for the original compositions. I think Monk himself would certainly approve.

It's always an incredible experience to watch Thelonious Monk performing. Click here to see a video of him doing just that, with Charlie Rouse on sax, Frankie Dunlop on drums and Butch Warren on bass. The song is Evidence, in a film recorded in Japan during 1963.

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