Mort Weiss: Blue Monk

Now this is a match made in jazz heaven. Ron Eschete shows off his guitar mastery while Mort Weiss swoops his way through the swingin' chord solos. With the expanded sonic palette of the 7-string guitar, it almost seems like there are more than two musicians playing. What's great about this particular format is that it pretty much requires the musicians to assume nontraditional roles. It's that stretch of responsibilities that produces some great and unexpected results.

October 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Oz Noy: Blue Monk

Jazz purists may cringe at the rock overtones, but the Hendrix influence cannot be ignored here. As with nearly all of Jimi's own recordings, this track is an improvisational showcase for long strings of notes played on Fender guitar and topped with heavy stereo effects and gain. While none of these details sounds particularly surprising on the surface, Noy has created a standalone version of the classic Monk tune that pays enough homage to the original composition that it can still be considered a cover. The divergent synthesis provides fusion credibility, and the recording works on this level.

October 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Abbey Lincoln: Blue Monk (2006)

Abbey Lincoln

In converting from chanteuse to provocateur, Abbey Lincoln became a terrible scold. The former Ebony magazine cover girl (June 1957), extolled therein for her "striking physical resemblance (vital statistics: 36-24-37)" to all-American pin-up Marilyn Monroe, and whose upcoming Riverside LP That's Him! would boast a cover photo of the luscious Miss L. practically falling out of her dress, had within two years reinvented herself. In 1959, Ebony's sister publication Jet announced "The New Abbey Lincoln," who "resented the role of glamour girl." According to Jet, "just as the doors of swank cafes were opening to her," Abbey balked. "I really don't fit in," she explained. "I'm a black woman and I have to sing about things I feel and know about—jazz." Comparisons to Marilyn Monroe were jettisoned; white standards of beauty no longer obtained. "I demand that I be respected as a dignified Negro woman," demanded the erstwhile "tan Venus."

By 1961, Abbey's attitude had so metamorphosed through militant feminism and racial victimization that her rendering of "Blue Monk" took on the self-righteous severity of a lecture by Emma Goldman. For her album Straight Ahead, Lincoln paired her own socially reproachful lyrics with Thelonious Monk's apolitical tune, and even her wordless singing of the melody following Coleman Hawkins's solo became somehow taunting and accusatory. Too much 'tude, Dude.

Forty-five years later, at age 76, Ms. Lincoln revisits "Blue Monk" with less drama but dramatically superior results. Malice has succumbed to maturity. This is a wonderfully familial performance. And it's not just the laid-back backwoods backing. It's also in Ms. Lincoln's voice, no longer clenched-fist sisterly resentful and vindictive, but open-armed grandmotherly wise and reflective.

Of course, Thelonious himself would probably have blanched at this setting of his signature tune featuring overdubbed countrified bouzouki, Dobro, mandolin, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar, lap steel guitar, pedal steel guitar and cittern slicker Larry Campbell. Back in 1957, when its composer performed "Blue Monk" on CBS-TV's all-star special The Sound of Jazz, such corn pone—officially still called Hillbilly Music—was off-limits at such blue monkeries as Greenwich Village's Five Spot Café, where country was about as welcome as Thelonious would have been on the bill of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry. Yet Abbey Lincoln's down-home update is nevertheless a telling tribute to Monk's rugged individualism. And best of all, this isn't propaganda preached harshly in sunlight. It's truth told calmly by moonlight.

May 05, 2008 · 0 comments


Thelonious Monk: Blue Monk (live at Newport, 1958)

The most frequently criticized sequence in Jazz on a Summer's Day, Bert Stern's documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, is Thelonious Monk's performance of "Blue Monk."  Like Jimmy Giuffre before him, Monk repeats a tune he'd played on the previous year's CBS telecast The Sound of Jazz. Monk even sports the same bamboo-framed sunglasses outdoors in July as he'd worn in the TV studio the prior December.

The criticism, though, is never directed at Monk, but rather at the filmmaker for relegating the pianist to background music for distracting aerial shots of the America's Cup trials, filmed by Stern leaning out of a rented Piper Cub over the waters off Newport and proving once again Damon Runyon's timeless axiom that viewing a yacht race is like watching grass grow. Even more annoying than the lumbering boats, however, is the fact that much of Monk's solo is obscured by a nautical sportscaster jabbering from his perch on the bridge of the U.S. Destroyer William R. Rush, strategically deployed at taxpayer expense within 200 yards of the starting line. (Did they fear a British Royal Navy sub might torpedo Columbia, the ultimately victorious New York Yacht Club entry?)

Unfortunately for purists, the original soundtrack CD provides not a pristine "Blue Monk," but a badly mangled compromise. In the process of mercifully stripping the inane prattle from this track, 16 bars of Monk's solo have been mislaid! In lieu of the movie's seven choruses, the CD contains a choppy five and two-thirds choruses—which ain't exactly what God had in mind when He gave Moses the 12-bar blues. Consequently, among the more than two dozen recordings of "Blue Monk" that its composer left us, this track in its present form must rank near the bottom. This criticism, though, is not directed at Thelonious, but towards those who treat his legacy with such disrespect.

March 30, 2008 · 2 comments


Jimmy Giuffre: Blue Monk

Waiting in the wings of CBS-TV's special The Sound of Jazz (1957), Jimmy Giuffre watched his co-star Thelonious Monk deliver "Blue Monk" to a no-doubt-mystified national audience. Later on the show, Giuffre joined oddball traditionalist Pee Wee Russell for a two-clarinet blues, and a year afterward commingled these experiences, recording Monk's tune in the shaggy-dog style of his Pee Wee jam. Like Monk, Giuffre was a modernist thoroughly grounded in premodern jazz, as were his cohorts in this peculiar trio. Brookmeyer's cup-muted, choke-valved trombone is rascally true to his K.C. roots; Hall's neighborly rhythm guitar and folksy basslines defy his Eastern conservatory preparation. The resultant "Blue Monk" is a calm, cool, impish delight.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments


Thelonious Monk: Blue Monk (1964 live version)

Ask me, and I’ll tell you Live at the It Club is Monk’s best record. The latest two-disc version restores virtually everything recorded over two nights at the L.A. spot, and I dare anyone to find a 15-second stretch that doesn’t inspire. Naming just one highlight is an impossible task, so why not start at the beginning, with an 11-minute take of “Blue Monk,” which happens to be one of my favorite pieces to play on my own piano. Monk’s oeuvre is so small that he recorded a handful of compositions over and over, and yet he still found new things to say each time through. Here his explorations are deep and wide, and he brings out the best in his bandmates, which is the most we can ask of any leader.

October 23, 2007 · 0 comments


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