October 27, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: blue monk
October 23, 2008 · 0 commentsTags: blue monk
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 commentsTags: blue monk
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 commentsTags: blue monk
October 27, 2007 · 0 commentsTags: blue monk
October 23, 2007 · 0 commentsTags: blue monk
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