Jessica Williams: Bemsha Swing

Those following Williams' career from the '80's to the late '90's were delighted when In the Key of Monk, her long-awaited live-in-concert tribute to Thelonious, was released in 1999. She had always been one of the most original interpreters of Monk's tunes, and, when so inspired, often interspersed elements of his style into performances of unrelated standards and her own compositions. In her liner notes, Williams wrote, "The truth is that a musician playing a Monk tune sounds like Monk because Monk tunes sound like Monk tunes. They're authentic, genuine distillations of Monk's musical point of view, and they inevitably affect the course of improvisation that any musician might take playing them...If you hear Monk in me at times, that's because he's a natural part of my musical make-up now."

"Bemsha Swing" was actually a collaboration between Monk and the usually uncredited Denzil Best. Williams initially plucks out the basic blues-oriented theme on the piano strings, before mixing in some choice key strokes. When she focuses exclusively on the keyboard, she uses a herky-jerky left-handed stride rhythm in conjunction with rapid-fire spiraling arpeggios for an enticing reinvention of Monk's tune. The pianist then refers back to the theme only to jump off into harmonically and rhythmically challenging and provocative contrapuntal dialogues. Williams' ability to create intricately woven opposing yet complementary lines simultaneously in each hand is an endless joy and wonder to hear. She departs as she entered—plucked strings heralding her return to Monk's melody as written.

April 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Hank Jones: Bemsha Swing

Hank Jones was already an established pianist when Thelonious Monk, who was his elder by a year, came to prominence. Here, decades after Monk's death, Jones makes one of Monk's most famous tunes his own, bending it to his mild manner without being unfaithful to its spirit. Where Monk carved his works in marble and granite, Jones works with wood, velvet and silk, and his swing, touch, accents and voicings are a constant source of wonder. All the more when he's supported by such empathic companions as Mraz and Mackrel.

March 21, 2008 · 0 comments


Miles Davis: Bemsha Swing

Miles Davis’s Christmas Eve 1954 session was the one where, legend had it, Miles instructed Monk to “lay out” while the trumpeter soloed. It’s hard to believe – really, if Miles was offended by Monk’s playing, why would he hire him for the date? But that’s not the point. This may be Miles’s record, but “Bemsha Swing” is Monk’s song (well, Monk’s and Denzil Best’s). Monk comps like a yeoman while the others solo, but when it comes his turn to solo he turns in a beauty – faithful to the composition, faithful to Miles’s desires, but Monkish all the way in its off-kilter rhythmic feel and contrapuntal notes. A rare, wonderful glimpse at Monk as sideman.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments


Previous Page | Next Page