Friday, August 30, 2013
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Other than in
a new generation of Timba bands now flourishes in Cuba ,
where a large concentration of Cuban-Americans reside. Miami,
has become the new Timba center outside the island largely by the contributions
of former members of the aforementioned bands who decided to stay in the Miami
in search of new opportunities.” US
- Vicenzo Perna. Timba: The Sound of the Cuban Crisis
“This new recording, Expectativas, takes the songwriting even deeper with extensive time shifting, liberal use of odd meters, genuine Timbajazz and other innovations, and the musicians rise to the challenge with some of the most inspired performances that you will hear in this music.”
- Bill Tilford, www.timba.com
“Manuel Valera leaves no doubt that he is destined to play a role in the future of Jazz.”
- Philip Van Vleck, Billboard
For a time during my professional career, I worked at international firm that had regional offices throughout the
I was based on what my
friends called The Left Coast [i.e.: New
York ] with a reporting line to a branch manager
in San Francisco . Seattle
While with this firm, I developed a specialty that was much in demand with healthcare systems in
, a state that is forced to be innovative
and progressive because nearly one-in-twelve Americans live in the state and
the force of those numbers are a constant source of pressure on the cost of all
goods and services. California
Around this time, all I knew about
was that it was on the other side of the
country and had an airport that I had once passed through while on my way to a
vacation in Miami,
Florida . Spain
That was about to change when one day the branch manager phoned and informed me that I was going to get a call from two of my counterparts based in Miami.
“Why me?,” I said. He replied: “Because they are working to land a large account that can use your area of expertise. You can either make a visit to set these guys up and support them afterwards by phone, or, you can plan to spend a lot of time in
doing it for them.” Miami
I gathered in talking further with him that the office in
had become a cosmopolitan one which
reflected the fact that the city was fast becoming a Latin American melting
pot. Two of the recent hires in our Miami office were Cuban-Americans who came from
expatriate Cuban families and these were to become my “students” [his words,
not mine]. Miami
“Teach them the basics. They are young and full of juice; they’ll catch on quickly.”
Through an exchange of information with other sources, I was able to ascertain that the account they were working on was a large hospital that had layered incompatible approaches to risk management together and I knew of some ways that might fix the hospital’s problems.
So I flew to
. Due to the time difference and a delay
caused by the-always-terrible-weather at the Miami , it was a late-arriving flight. My
Cuban-American colleagues picked me up at the airport, took me downtown and
checked me into a hotel that was near our offices. “Get some kip because we are
going to start at .” San Francisco International Airport
! That would mean that I would have to get up at the equivalent of in the morning, Pacific Time [which my bodily clock was still running on].
When the alarm went off at , I got up, murmured something to myself like “How did I get into this mess,” and then promptly walked into a wall before backing up and then locating the door to the bathroom.
My colleagues were at the curb outside the hotel waiting for me and as I was gurgling coffee while trying not to fall asleep in the back seat they said: “We are going to work from to and then we are going to play for the rest of the day.”
And play we did.
After the meetings, they took me to The Versailles a restaurant in the Little Havana section of
that specialized in Cuban food and which
served it in portions that were gigantic. Miami
Then we went to a coffee and cigar bar where we drank strong Cuban coffee and the guys puffed on smoothly-pulling stogies while playing dominoes outside on a veranda with two old-timers who royally kicked our backsides and dominated every game.
The it was back to the hotel to take a nap. A nap? How after drinking caffeine laced Cuban coffee and ingesting all that nicotine for most of the afternoon - not to mention the still-full stomach from the huge lunch at Versailles that would probably take me another day-and-a-half to digest – was I going to take a nap?
“Don’t worry,” my colleagues reassured me, “it will wear off quickly and you’ll be asleep in no time. Tonight we are going to take you to a club in Little Havana that features “Timba Music.”
I didn’t know anything about “Timba Music,” but from the moment I first heard it in the musty, murky atmosphere of that club in Little Havana, the ex-drummer in me fell in love with it.
I found this brief explanation of Timba music in Wikipedia:
“As opposed to salsa, whose roots are with the Cuban conjunto bands of the 1940s and 1950s, modified with rock, jazz, funk, pop and Puerto Rican folk, Timba represents a synthesis of a wider variety of popular and folkloric sources. Timba bands draw heavily from international influences such as Jazz, Rock, Disco, Funk and, more recently, Hip Hop, as well as,
’s more indigenous music such as rumba, guaguancó,
batá drumming and the sacred songs of
We did manage to get the account by helping the client integrate the cost control features they were using rather than stacking them one-on-top-of-the-other and, true to his word, the boss allow me to work on the account with my Miami-based colleagues by phone, fax and e-mail.
Being so far from
, I must admit to not having kept up much
with Timba music. Miami
That is until I listened to the opening track of Manuel Valera’s latest CD, Expectativas: Manuel Valera and The New Cuban Express [Mavo Records 1105], entitled Chamber Timba which quickly served to bring back all the happy memories of my time in Little Havana.
But it did more than that because Chamber Timba and the eleven other tracks on Expectativas introduced me to Manuel Valera’s highly sophisticated skills as a composer and his phenomenal technique as a keyboardist.
Expectativas: Manuel Valera and The New Cuban Express is not just another Latin Jazz recording with Jazz superimposed over Latin rhythms.
Manuel’s music successfully integrates Latin rhythms and melodic conventions with elements of the cool style of Jazz reminiscent of the arrangements of Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans, Bill Holman with their interplay of countermelodies and light, bouncy rhythms, the harmonic orientation of pianist Lenny Tristano and his counterparts, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh and the unusual time signatures that first came to prominence with the
Dave Brubeck Quartet and later reached
incredible complexity with the Don Ellis Orchestra.
In addition to Manuel’s marvelous technique on keyboards,
NCX is made-up of the light-toned and super
smooth soprano and alto saxophone work of Yosvany Terry [who also plays the
Chekere on all but one track], the guitar stylings of Tom Guarna, the
“heartbeat” provided bassist John Benitiz and the “pulse” and drive of drummer
Ludwig Alfonso. The “hot sauce and spices” that flavor the music come from
percussionists Paulo Stagnaro and Mauricio Herrera.
Manuel’s tunes and arrangements require a great deal of skill to play; you have to know what you’re doing at all times in this music as there are so many moving parts.
The musicianship on display by Manuel and The New Cuban Express is more than equal to the task.
And it needs to be for as Vicenzo Perna, author of Timba: The Sound of the Cuban Crisis further explains: “Timba songs tend to sound more innovative, experimental and frequently more virtuosic than salsa pieces; horn parts are usually fast, at times even bebop influenced, and stretch to the extreme ranges of all instruments. Bass and percussion patterns are similarly unconventional.”
Timba needs to be spoken of because of its musical, cultural, social, and political reasons; its sheer popularity in Cuba, its novelty and originality as a musical style, the skill of its practitioners, its relationship with both local traditions and the culture of the black Diaspora, its meanings, and the way its style brings to light the tension points within society. In addition to timbales, Timba drummers make use of the North American drum-set, further distinguishing the sound from that of mainland salsa. The use of synthesized keyboards is also common.”
Bill Tilford of Timba.com, gave these impressions Expectativas which appear in the CD’s insert notes:
“Manuel Valera had already been recording excellent Jazz albums for nearly a decade (the disc you are holding in your hands or tasting electronically is his 7th as a leader) when his current group, the New Cuban Express, came together in 2011, and Cuba has given birth to so many excellent composer-pianist-bandleaders that if this story didn't have anything more to it, the music you are about to hear might still be concealed within a thick jungle of other distinguished but obscure recordings by exceptionally-talented Cuban Jazz artists now living in cities like New York as well as back on the island.
Fortunately for all of us, something extraordinary happened when this band began performing in public — like some Latin Jazz version of the
CERN supercollider or a cutting-edge biotech
lab, the New Cuban Express began producing results that will one day
fundamentally transform our understanding of how the musical universe is put
NCX's first recording, 2012's self-titled New
Cuban Express, spread like wildfire among the community of musicians
and serious listeners and earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album
of the Year. This new recording, Expectativas, takes the songwriting
even deeper with extensive time shifting, liberal use of odd meters, genuine
Timbajazz and other innovations, and the musicians rise to the challenge with
some of the most inspired performances that you will hear in this music.
If you are reading these lines ten years from the time that this was recorded, I won't be at all surprised if Expectativas is considered part of the birth of something not yet named. If you have the good fortune to be present at the creation, drop whatever else you are doing, prepare to experience something memorable, and decide for yourself whether this is merely some of the best Latin Jazz you have ever heard or something more than that.”
Also from the disc insert notes, what Manuel Valera has to say about his own music should give you a sense of its richness and diversity:
“The music on this recording represents my continued growth as a composer, pianist and bandleader. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work regularly with the
NCX and I feel a deep connection with all the
members of the band. Here's a brief synopsis of each track.
Chamber Timba is a composition that infuses the high energy of timba music with the subtleties of Jazz. This is a concept that we have been working on as a band.
Expectativas is a tune that has been part of the band's repertoire and I've always felt a sense of hope and innocence from this composition.
Perception is a gentle cha cha cha that goes thru some rhythmic changes. In the middle it goes to a danzon and at the ends it becomes a makuta with a timba flavor.
Chennai Express is a tune dedicated to all my friends at
SAM. (Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music) in
southern where I had the pleasure of teaching at
the beginning of 2013 for 7 weeks. This tune is in 11/4. India
I composed Isabelita when my daughter Isabel was born in 2008. She inspires everything I do.
Jben Timbus is a feature for one of my favorite bass players anywhere: John Benitez. I'm so lucky he also happens to be part of the
La Gloria Eres Tu is an amazing bolero by the great Cuban singer-songwriter Jose Antonio Mendez. This track is really exciting for me because my father, Manuel Valera (the saxophonist), is performing with us on this one. He has one of the most beautiful alto sounds out there and I'm really excited that we finally got a chance to record something together with the
En Cinco is a really old tune of mine. I actually recorded a different arrangement of this song on my debut CD Forma Nueva with El Negro Hernandez and John Patitucci. It has stayed in my repertoire thru the years and I've performed it in all sorts of formats—from solo piano to big band. On this track the band really opens up!
Open Window is a song that gives you a sense of all the possibilities and different paths that one could take at any point life.
Descarga Para Frank Emilio’" is a tune based on the rhythmic motif from Sandunga Mandinga Mondongo by the great Cuban pianist Frank Emilio Flynn.
Las Americas is a ballad that I dedicate to the entire American continent and to all our friends from the Western hemisphere.
Thank you for listening!”
The following video montage of scenes from
’s “Little Havana” is set to Chamber Timba to give you a sample of
the exciting music on Expectativas: Manuel Valera and The New
Cuban Express. [Please click on the “X” to close out of the ads.] Miami
Sunday, August 25, 2013
Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Stan Kenton’s music always evoked strong reactions.
And, as you can see from the following essay by the superb Jazz writer and critic, Whitney Balliett, some of them were not always favorable.
For me the pleasure of experiencing the sheer power of the band, especially in performance, was enthralling; the epitome of excitement in Jazz.
One of my most enjoyable memories is of a Spring break spent with friends on the Balboa peninsula in southern
while the Kenton band was folding forth at the Rendezvous
Ballroom and literally walking into its cavernous spaces on a daily basis to
hear the orchestra rehearse. California
I certainly can relate to Gary Giddins’ description of one aspect of the Kenton aura when he writes:
“Kenton had a mystique, not to mention an audience that listened to little else. When he left Capitol in 1968, he started the most successful musician-owned independent jazz label ever, Creative World. A class operation in every respect, the company believed in its product. Spurred by its professionalism, I tried to measure up, poring over every new release, as well as reissues of albums leased from Capitol, and catching Kenton whenever he appeared in town. To be sure, his catalogue included many enduring performances, ingenious arrangements by Bill Holman, Gerry Mulligan, Pete Rugolo, Johnny Richards, and others, with solos by saxophonists Lee Konitz, Art Pepper, Zoot Sims, Bill Perkins (whose tenor solo on Johnny Richards's arrangement of "Out of This World” is worth discovering), and Lennie Niehaus (for all the heavy-handed brasses, the reeds had the best soloists), and brassmen Carl Fontana, Frank Rosolino, and the Candoli brothers. For a while, drummer Mel Lewis, who gave the band much of its heart, and bassist Max Bennett made a vital rhythm team.” [Visions of Jazz, pp.328-329]
Whitney, on the other hand, seems less-than-captivated by the Kenton sensation in the following essay entitled Artistry in Limbo from his wonderful book: The Sound of Surprise: 46 Pieces on Jazz by The New Yorker Critic, 1959].
But the editorial staff of JazzProfiles wanted more of Whitney’s writings on these pages along with an opportunity to bring you a playlist of eight  videos that feature music from various eras of the Kenton Band.
When it comes to Stan Kenton’s music, there’s no point in trying to reconcile opposites so why not read Whitney’s view of the band and see if you agree with it after experiencing Kenton’s music on the playlist?
© -Whitney Balliett, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Stan kenton got started officially as a band leader on Memorial Day, 1940, when he opened with a thirteen-piece group at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, California. The music, already indicative of things to come, was relentless and heavy-booted, with a staccato two-beat attack that resembled in intent, if not execution, the style of the Lunceford band of the time. Perhaps it was persuasive because it was rhythmically overpowering, for by the summer's end, Kenton had built a staunch following on the West Coast and considerable speculation about his "new music" in the East. Kenton's second period began in 1944 after he had been East, and, although the band was defter and less aggressive, it was not much different. The third era, 1945-46, illustrated what is now known as the band's principal style — a big reed section securely rooted with a baritone saxophone, an inflexible, metallic-sounding rhythm section, and ear-bursting brass teams.
The next two periods extended from 1947 to 1951, years in which Kenton turned restlessly to his "progressive jazz" and "innovations in modern music," using, in addition to his own works, the compositions and arrangements of Bob Graettinger, Pete Rugolo, Ken Hanna, Neil Hefti, and Shorty
Rogers. Here the music moved ceaselessly and
cumbersomely between the funereal orchestrations of Graettinger,mood music
performed by a forty-piece band with strings that was perilously close to movie
music, and immense jazzlike frameworks constructed about scintillating section
work and occasional soloists. The last era, which brings the band up through
1953, was more or less of a deflation to the mid-forties period, and reveals a
clearer jazz feeling than the band had ever before had.
It is impossible not to be impressed by Kenton's aural bulk, by the sheer sinew and muscle that have gone into his music. It is not impossible, however, to remain almost completely unmoved. Kenton's bands, in spite of all the complacent, organ like talk that has surrounded their "progressivism" in the past ten years, fit roughly into the tradition of the silvery semi-jazz groups of Larry Clinton, Glen Gray, Glenn Miller, the Dorseys, and Ray Anthony. This tradition, although aereated from time to time by Bunny Berigans and Bobby Hacketts, is quite different from the genuine big jazz bands cradled by Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington, and maintained since by Goodman, Lunceford, Galloway, Basie, and Woody Herman.
Kenton does not fit easily into the white-collar music of the former tradition, however, for he tried to combine the two movements, with the help of extracurricular seasonings, into something new. This he did, in part, by allowing ample solo space within glistening limousines of sound that, in the end, tended only to stifle whatever potentialities for jazz there were on hand. He also created, as a result of purposely and confusedly trying to be a musical refractor of his times, a self-conscious music that was caught — strident and humorless — somewhere between the pseudo-classical, jazz, and popular music.
Nevertheless, Kenton's sounds and furies have, partly through accident, had certain positive effects within jazz. His various bands have been rigorous training grounds for many younger musicians, particularly those who have gone on to fashion in the past few years, in probable revolt, the small-band parlor jazz of the West Coast. His pelting about of words like "progressive" and "innovation," together with the uncompromisingly modernistic tenor of his music, has helped prepare the public for true futurists like Gillespie, Parker, Monk, Powell, and John Lewis. And, finally, he has inadvertently defined, like a Thomas Wolfe, the possible wastelands of his own medium, thus performing the negative service of showing many jazzmen where not to tread.
Kenton says in the epilogue to a recent album called "The Kenton Era" that "It is too early yet to attempt to ascertain whether our efforts over the years have contributed to the development of the world's music." It isn't, of course, for — as is apparent in this album — his music has come just about full circle. Indeed, it deserves a prominent place in that fascinating museum where the curiosities of music are stored.”
Friday, August 23, 2013
Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“The Five Spot Cafe was initially situated at
5 Cooper Square,
The Termini brothers, who were the club owners, relocated it to 2
St. Marks Place. The place was small, with
tables relative close to one another plus a small stage where the performers
did their act. Musicians performing at the original Five Spot included Cecil
Taylor and Charles Mingus. Mingus was the one who performed the last gig before
it was demolished. Five Spot had been a neighborhood bar; it started featuring
jazz at the suggestion of other artists as well as poets who were moving into
the nearby apartments during the 1940s. It rose to prominence on the music
when Thelonious Monk started living near the place; his seven-month gig at the
club was a milestone for both him, [John Coltrane] and the Five
Spot.” New York
- Martin Williams, Jazz Changes
The Library of Congress holds the nation's largest public collection of sound recordings and radio broadcasts, with some 2.5 million recordings representing nearly every sound recording format.
A grant from the Carnegie Corporation in 1940 helped create the Library's Recording Laboratory, which now works to preserve and provide access to endangered and historically significant audio collections held by the Library of Congress.
In 1963 the Library acquired the Voice of
Collection, which includes more than 50,000 tapes and discs of musical and
other cultural events. Of further interest to jazz researchers, LC has the
collections of Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Mingus, Milt Hinton, Gerry Mulligan,
Carmen McRae, Billy Taylor, Charlie Barnett, and Louis BeUson, as well as the
famous 1938 Jelly Roll Morton oral histories. America
For more information about the Library's Recorded Sound collections, contact the
: http://www,loc.gov/rr/record/ Recorded Sound Reference Center
“Everything they play is exciting, dynamic, sometimes adventurous, and very much in sync. Monk is having such a good time at the piano that he hardly gets up from the bench. The stories from the Five Spot in this period always portray Monk as dancing around or heading toward the bar while Coltrane blows with the rhythm section. But what Monk is playing underneath Coltrane is pure brilliance; to call it "comping" simply does not do justice to the creative dialogue Thelonious is having with the entire band.
- Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk, A Life
In Monk, Coltrane found "a musical architect of the highest order." In Coltrane, Monk found an analytical brother—a musician who shared in his intellectual approach and remained true to the sound and structure of his music. "Monk's music had been played already before Trane with different saxophonists, but I think Trane was more precise," pianist Tommy Flanagan once noted. "He was more careful about learning things exactly like Monk meant."
- Ashley Kahn, author of John Coltrane: A Love Supreme
While I wished that it were otherwise, things often don’t work out for the best in the Jazz World.
This was often due to a combination of eugenics and euthenics, or, broadly speaking, to artistic temperament and environment.
Amazingly, given the discipline it takes to master an instrument well enough to play Jazz on it, such control and restraint was often lacking in Jazz musicians when it came to meeting the demands of making it commercially so as to be able to eat and pay the rent on a regular basis.
It didn’t help that, all-too-often, the venues in which the Jazz musician had to earn a living were nightclubs that were managed by less-than-scrupulous owners whose greatest concern was with how much water they could get into a bottle of booze in order to generate the maximum amount of revenue coming out of it.
Occasionally, there was an understanding saloon owner who cared for the well-being of musicians and there were even rarer opportunities to get Jazz out of an atmosphere of booze and smoke and onto the concert stage.
Such was the case in the glorious year of 1957 for both pianist/composer Thelonious Monk and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, who thanks to the munificence of the Termini brothers, got to spend a good deal of time in each others’ company at The Five Spot Café in lower Manhattan.
The capstone of this year of self-discovery for Thelonious and ‘Trane was a
performance at Carnegie Hall.
The nine months or so that Monk and Coltrane spent together in 1957 turned their personal lives around and help to launch their professional careers in new directions.
Suffice to say that eating regularly and paying the rent would no longer be issues in their lives and neither would unprincipled tavern owners. The concert stage, too, became a regular venue for their respective quartets.
The Termini brothers and The Five Spot Café have long been documented as an incubator for the Thelonious Monk Quartet featuring John Coltrane.
What was not known until the relatively recent discovery of the lost tapes to the concert was their performance together as part of a Thanksgiving Jazz Festival that was held at Carnegie Hall on
Friday, November 29, 1957.
When Blue Note Records issued the tapes to this concert after they were discovered in 2005 they included six, different writers views of their significance as the insert notes to the recording. The editorial staff at JazzProfiles have included all of these vantage points below in a slightly rearranged sequence.
© -Larry Applebaum, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“The Library has been systematically processing, cataloging, and preserving the Voice of America Collection for many years. In February of 2005, while thumbing through some VGA acetate tapes awaiting digitization, I noticed several reels labeled "Carnegie Hall Jazz 1957." One of the tape boxes had a handwritten note on the back that said T. Monk" with song titles. When we played it, I recognized both Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane and my heart started racing. I confirmed with Lewis [Porter of The Institute of Jazz Studies] that these tapes had never surfaced or been released in any form. They were indeed the tapes he'd been searching for all these years.
We've discovered many rare recordings here over the years, but this one is special.
It reminds us once again why it's so important to preserve these unique materials. It's why we do what we do, and why we love this work.
There's always more.
—LARRY APPELBAUM, Recording Lab Supervisor, Library of Congress”
© -Robin D. G. Kelley, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Thelonious Monk was in a good mood this night. Even if we knew nothing of his life up to that point, anyone with ears could tell the music came from a place of joy. The band was remarkably tight, after having played regularly at the Five Spot since July of 1957, and they were simply having a ball. (Coltrane and Wilson joined Monk on July 18, 1957; Abdul-Malik replaced Wilbur Ware, who was part of the original quartet, a month later.)
Thelonious had other reasons to be happy. Here he was, playing his music before an enthusiastic crowd in Carnegie Hall, when just a year ago he was scuffling for work. Indeed, his Five Spot engagement marked Monk's "return" to the jazz club scene after a six-year hiatus. In August of 1951, he was falsely arrested for narcotics possession and deprived of his cabaret card, a police-issued "license" required to perform in
clubs that served alcohol. The truth of
the matter is that his last steady gig was with Coleman Hawkins back in
1945-46! New York
The occasion for the concert, a fundraiser for the
, also made the evening especially
gratifying for Thelonious. Located on Morningside Community Center West 122nd Street in Harlem, the served some 4,000 mostly black, low-income
youth, providing a range of programs including a summer camp, a day nursery,
and a mental hygiene clinic. Thelonious had a soft spot for these kinds of
institutions, having spent most of his youth at the Morningside Community Center , a youth center located just across the
street from his house on Columbus Hill Neighborhood Center West 63rd Street. Thanks to the hard work of the
"Friends" of the and promoter Kenneth Karpe, the group had
put together several star-studded fundraisers employing the talents of artists
like Lena Home and Marian Anderson. This night was no different. Monk shared
the stage with Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie and his orchestra, Ray Charles,
Chet Baker and Zoot Sims, and "the brilliant Sonny Rollins." Morningside Community Center
When it is all said and done, however, the music really speaks for itself. For so long, this particular band has been the stuff of legend because, in spite of their long engagement at the Five Spot, they only recorded three songs together in the studio (with Wilbur Ware on bass). The rapport between the whole band is astonishing in and of itself, but what makes these performances so historic are the surprises. "Monk's Mood," for example, is a startlingly beautiful dialogue with Coltrane, with
Monk playing these sensuous arpeggios and runs underneath Coltrane's interpretation of the theme. And they are not the "whole tone" runs we've come to expect from Monk.
The arrangement of "Blue Monk" is another nice surprise, with Coltrane playing the melody a minor third below (except for the first note, which begins on Bb, a major third below). This changes the sonority significantly, setting up a different kind of exploration of the blues.
It is a sheer pleasure to listen to the interaction between Monk and Wilson. Just check out
's cymbal work on "Epistrophy"
and the surprising moment when Monk mimics a little five-beat lick Wilson pulls out of his snare drum. Wilson
Everything they play is exciting, dynamic, sometimes adventurous, and very much in sync. Monk is having such a good time at the piano that he hardly gets up from the bench. The stories from the Five Spot in this period always portray Monk as dancing around or heading toward the bar while Coltrane blows with the rhythm section. But what Monk is playing underneath Coltrane is pure brilliance; to call it "comping" simply does not do justice to the creative dialogue Thelonious is having with the entire band.
This remarkable recording confirms, for me at least, that the Monk-Coltrane quartet was one of the most important ensembles of the 1950s, if not the century. Let's hope there are more discoveries to be made.
— ROBIN D. G. KELLEY
author of Thelonious: A Life (forthcoming, The Free Press)”
© -Lewis Porter, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Coltrane had already performed at Carnegie Hall with Dizzy Gillespie (1949) and Miles Davis (1955); Monk might not have played there before, but he had been at other halls. Still, both were far from jaded, and in this evening of sharing the bill with Gillespie, Rollins, et al, the excitement is evident. At the start, Monk is flying all over the keyboard on "Monk's Mood." When Trane enters, his tone is captured beautifully, and one can hear the ambience of the hall. The second set, by contrast, has a real "late show" quality — there is an audibly smaller audience, and the quartet stretches out with longer solos and a more relaxed feel. (There are no bass or drum solos in either set, so as to keep things within the allotted time.) This is a working band, comfortable together (they had been at the Five
Spot, with just a few weeks off, since July 18, and would be there for a few more weeks). Notice how John comes in with the theme during Monk's solo on "Evidence" — Monk probably gave him a visual cue. Trane plays harmony to the melody on "Blue Monk." "Sweet and Lovely" is the most arranged piece of the night, going in and out of double-time.
Trane enthusiasts will know that the other recordings of Monk and Trane are all undated — the studio session (Riverside) is believed to be from the summer of 1957, and the Five Spot tape (Blue Note), originally assumed to be from 1957, most probably documents a one-night reunion on September 11, 1958. (There are two additional undated tracks at Monkzone.com under "Webcasts.") It's nice to have a firm date for the present concert, since
that enables us to place it in context among other recordings from the time — for example, it followed Blue Train from
September 15, 1957 and preceded 's Milestones LP from February and March
1958. Coltrane, who felt liberated playing with Monk, double-times incessantly
(the "sheets of sound" noted by Davis Ira Gitler), often playing fast scales. The runs
would become more complex throughout 1958, after which he dropped the
"sheets" and moved on to other things. Two of his favorite patterns
appear in nearly every solo here. One, his descending diminished pattern (p.134
in my book), forms the basis of his opening cadenza on "Monk's Mood"
and appears, for example, three times between and on the first "Epistrophy." The
other, which Jimmy Heath pointed out (p.67), appears often in
"Bye-Ya" (,,,,, ). Bits of Coltrane's past survive here:
few people realize that Coltrane absorbed some ideas from Paul Gonsalves when
both were with Gillespie, and perhaps that influence can still be heard in two
places ("Bye-Ya" 1:35; the second "Epistrophy" 1:46) — by
1958 it was gone. The future is coming through here, as well. At on "Nutty," Trane plays a
striking lick that
would turn up again in 1958, and at in the same solo he briefly plays pentatonic patterns, which would become a major focus of his in 1959 and beyond. On the second "Epistrophy," Trane begins his solo with little rising arpeggios (0:44), and he brings in a similar idea later () — nice stuff! And as was always the case, Coltrane drew inspiration from the blues — past, present, and future.
About Monk — I wonder if it ever has been so clear just how outrageous he was — check out "Crepuscule with Nellie," especially the ending, and try to imagine how it would have sounded to you, in that hall, almost 50 years ago. Also dig how Monk fits in a lick from "52nd Street Theme" just after Trane enters ()! And how about his 5-bar intro to "Sweet and Lovely"?! Since I first came across references to this taped event in 1996, I'd been inquiring at the Library of Congress in hopes that it would turn up — and it fully lives up to expectations!
—LEWIS PORTER, Jazz professor at Rutgers-Newark, author of John Coltrane: His Life and Music and one of five authors of the forthcoming Coltrane reference ook (Routkdge, 2007).”
© -Stanley Crouch, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
The High Priest and The Budding Innovator
When Walter Davis, Jr. asked Bud Powell whom he should listen to after Powell himself, the biggest influence on bebop piano players answered, "Monk. If I had Tatum's technique and Monk's mind, there would be no other piano players. Wait. Forget Tatum. If I had my technique and Monk's mind, there would be no other piano players. Listen to Monk. He has the mind.
It was always like that. Thelonious Monk was the grand thinker of the World War II generation that invented bebop, but he was not a bopper though his knowledge had been essential to what both Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the twin fountainheads of that age, brought to the bebop style. While Monk made marvelous recordings for Blue Note at the end of the forties and in the early fifties, his importance was beyond that of a signal composer for small bands and a piano player second to none in his originality. I submit that Monk was also the greatest influence on the thinking of most major jazz musicians since Charlie Parker.
It seems very obvious, in reflection. His sense of abstraction, of reducing things to their startling essences was fundamental to Miles Davis, who began to believe that less is more, which was quite a rejoinder to the bebop idea that more is more. Sonny Rollins has referred to Monk as his guru and we have no doubt that Rollins gathered the thematic conception of improvising from him. John Coltrane's vision of modality might well be rooted in the fact that Monk would provide him with hours of examples of what could be done with a single chord if a question about one chord was asked by the saxophonist. It is also obvious that the learning of Monk's "Trinkle, Tinkle" so revolutionized Coltrane's rhythmic and phrasing style that its impact remained with him until the end of his life. Deep students of the music say that Wayne Shorter's harmony is built upon Monk's, and there is little doubt that the thematic way in which Ornette Coleman approaches his music is another variation on Monk's decided use of thematic elements in his improvising as opposed to chord-running arpeggios that make no references to the theme at hand. I think that settles the question.
All of that adds up what you have in your hands, which is the second discovery of Monk and Coltrane in performance that Blue Note has presented to the world. When Coltrane joined Monk for the summer of 1957 at
's Five Spot, the quartet engagement, which
included bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Shadow Wilson, rumbled the jazz world.
Many felt that something new was taking place because the brilliance of Monk's
playing had become more apparent over the last fifteen years, the stark and
startling beauty of his compositions sprayed pungency and steel shavings into
the air, and John Coltrane, from whom few had ever expected so much, was coming
forward as an intellectual and intensely passionate force while redefining the
way the tenor saxophone was played. New York
J. J. Johnson, one of the supreme intellectuals of the bebop generation, found the combination the most exciting thing he had heard since Parker and Gillespie appeared in the middle forties, and the critic Martin Williams was ecstatic about the quality of the playing. Many bemoaned the fact that the group was not recorded, though a few selections appeared years later that were done in the studio but, some said, lacked the spark of the evenings at the Five Spot. Then a set of the band at the Five Spot in September of 1958 appeared. Coltrane was subbing for Johnny Griffin who had replaced him when he returned to Miles Davis's band. That set was profoundly exciting and had the new rhythm section of Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass and the drums of Roy Haynes. Now we hear three quarters of the original band at Carnegie Hall in the winter of 1957.
After almost five months of work, playing three or four sets a night to listeners, musicians, writers, artists, and aesthetes in the little bar room on
5th Street and the Bowery, everyone was technically
assured and the pianist and the saxophonist are almost brazenly adventurous.
Monk sounds especially happy to be playing a piano beyond the saloon keyboards
that jazzmen were faced with for most of the music's life. It is also clear
that he and his men are not there to toy around because the opening piece,
"Monk's Mood," has a somber, elevated seriousness equaled only by the
dark, gloomy, and inscrutably high-minded lyricism sometimes heard in Duke
Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. The piece is as perfect for Monk as it is for
Coltrane, who was never less than ardent. "Monk's Mood" is one of the
most striking ballad statements ever made in the music and it is wonderfully
I have long thought that there must have been a special affinity between Monk and Coltrane since both were from
and represented in very different ways, as
have almost all important jazz musicians, the combination of high intellect
and country soul. Nearly all of the greatest are men and women from the
country, either below the North Carolina Mason-Dixon line or from the Midwest if not the southwest, which is why the blues and blues feeling
have always been so essential: they are connectives that speak to the rural and
urban underpinnings of the art. The complex mystery of the urban night of
concrete and artificial light meets the enigma of the Arcadian darkness, where
tales true or tall of dragons beneath white sheets, ghosts and spirits seem to
loom as strongly as the legends shielded from view by the architecture of the
In Monk and Coltrane we also have an oddly fruitful combination. Monk had always been a natural, superior talent, often winning talent contests at
Harlem's Apollo when he was a youth. Though Benny
Golson and Jimmy Heath would strongly disagree, the early Coltrane of legend seemed to most a journeyman at
best. What gives his tale particular heroism was Coltrane's discovery that his
talent was much harder to reach than that of pure naturals like Armstrong,
Young, Parker, and Rollins, all of whom had to work hard but each of whom found
his gift much more quickly, not that far below the surface. Coltrane is
absolutely unique in jazz history. He had to dig deeper, and only a man of
radiant will could have achieved what he did. Coltrane's determination demanded
that practice become an ongoing obsession. That constant practicing and studying
is not legend. It so formidably reshaped his skills and his understanding that
the saxophonist appeared to almost suddenly stand up to the best men of his
The thoroughness of Monk's self-confidence on the levels of melody, harmony, timbre, and rhythm combined with Coltrane's fervor created a monumental fusion of intellect and soul that was paced and abetted by the swing of Malik and the superior style and dynamics of Wilson, which is a revelation it itself. Here they address all of the fundamental moods and grooves of jazz: the blues, 4/4 swing, the ballad, and Afro-Hispanic rhythms. Through them, once again, we are made witness to the epic contribution that jazz made to Western musical performance. We hear that the present moment of improvisational creativity can be as timeless and as refined as any polished creations from the great past. As this recording proves, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, above all else, are as central to that fact as every other titan of the jazz idiom.”
— STANLEY CROUCH author of The Artificial White Man
© -Amiribaraka, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“In 1957 I had just come from USAF Base Ramey,
Puerto Rico, A/ 2c E. L. Jones, B-36 Weather-Gunner and Night Librarian. A pit
stop in and then to Newark E. 3rd Street a couple of blocks from the original Five
Spot. Hence every night of that historic triumph I was there to dig Monk,
Trane, Shadow Wilson, and Abdul-Malik. So wonderful, mind opening, revelational
was that five months; the music, whoever heard it, that scene, and a sizeable
part of the world, could never be the same.
Monk was one of my original culture heroes, from the old Blue Note, Blue covers, mystery Shades, the High Priest of my generation's first revolution. Bebop. Trane then was walking the bar in Philly and later part of the great Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, then the early Prestige sides.
By the time I got to NYC, Emmett Till's murder had stampeded Black America into enraged conflict with
the Ugly, as the Civil Rights Movement.
The young America MLK had risen in the victorious Montgomery
Boycotts, responding to Rosa Parks's act of resistance and rushed into the eyes
and ears of the a Black and Actual American leader. US
So '57 was a launching pad in our minds for what was to come in the popular sweep of the good; the music, was given the wheels, the will, to be not just defiant, but, you dig, Hip! Which meant, whatever ugly whatnots of the wherever you confronted, they were, at best, Corny! That is, unworthy of further contemplation.
The music and its Diggers had armed defiance with a sense of its own aesthetic grace. Malcolm X & John Coltrane were part of a torrent of fire readying in the late-'50s to burst loose from the American Slave nation, one openly political, but both also liberated from the deadly funk of spiritual paralysis that endangered the self-righteously hip... if there was no Up to their being so Down.
Monk, from the endangered species confines of having had his cabaret card taken away by the Bushmen of the time. Trane, from the slick doped out space of "Miles Davis's funny-timery." So the late-'50s began a period of intense struggle which was the foundation for a profound art.
In Later Trane I wrote of the context of their meeting: "Who watched Trane enter the monastery of His Outness, Thelonious, the High Priest of Gone. Then checked John struggling to possess Monk's deepness. It's Dignataria and thus lay for Serious, 'I'd go by his house and get him out of bed. He'd get up and go over to the piano and start playing. He'd play one of his tunes and he'd look at me. So I'd get my horn out and start trying to find out what he was playing.'
"Who checked all this understands how Monk invented Break Dancing once Trane was loaded with the vonze ('dug the arrangements') and so released T. Sphere to conduct the band & the whole Five Spot universe that season while autochoreographing the Beyond ... COL-trane, COL-trane, the dancer calls to hear his teaching."
What is so grand about the Carnegie tapes is that those tunes Trane was struggling with (the first couple of weeks he was near-pitiful, with the heads, but Monk pounded away at the chords) — say, "Evidence," "Monk's Mood," "Epistrophy," which grew steadily more finished and exquisite during that Summer of wonder — by time of the concert a few months later, not only was Trane peerless with the heads, but now sailed off into his own furtherness and the band itself was tight as Dick's hat band.
Of even more curious delight is that one can see now how Trane's residency with that great band influenced the teacher as well. Check Monk's expansive backup arpeggios on "Monk's Mood," matching Trane's multi-noted zoom. "Epistrophy" shows the exactness the well-honed match that playing together over an extended period can produce. (Dig Duke!)
So this concert is a stunning find, not only for the purely aesthetic pleasure that truth and beauty can give, but as a profound volume of scholarship perhaps showing the denouement of a particular time, here just before this perfectness turns into the searching uncertainties of the next period, in which both these artists are battle flags.”
, Newark July 13,2005
Gitler, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Setting the Scene
As one of the only two of the six writers involved in the notes for this historic recording who could possibly have attended the concert that produced this music, I am still wondering why I not only wasn't there, but why I've no memory of the event nor do friends of mine, such as
Dan Morgenstern, who have been in and around jazz for a long time.
I've stopped scratching my head, helped by immersing myself in the two sets by Monk and Trane and their Five Spot regulars of the time, Ahmed Abdul-Malik and Shadow Wilson. In the 1955-57 period there were two clubs that were particularly favored: Cafe
and the Five Spot Cafe. The Bohemia got hot quickly when it opened in 1955,
especially after Cannonball Adderley, fresh up from Bohemia , created a stir when he sat in with Oscar
Pettiford's group. In 1956, I was there three times a week when the Miles Davis
Quintet was in residence. Florida
I had been to the Five Spot before 1957, but when Coltrane joined Monk I was there three times a week. Joe Termini began a music policy because he was bored with merely playing Scrabble every night from behind his beer taps with his clientele, painters who were soon to become famous in the area of Abstract Expressionism. Many of them were into jazz and encouraged Joe. Dick Wetmore, talented on both violin and cornet (shades of Ray Nance), was one of the early players at the club. In '56 David Amram and Cecil Taylor began gigging — Steve Lacy was in the picture, too — and this carried over into '57. Esquire covered the scene and new audiences drifted downtown to check it out.
Monk with Trane really put in on the map —
5 Cooper Square ( 3rd Avenue) between 4th and 5th Streets, to be exact.
It was an elemental place; store front where you might see a Bowery bum
mugging if you looked out through the plate-glass window; tables to your left
as you walked in, until you arrived at the bandstand; more tables in front of
the stand, an aisle, and a bar against the right wall, its stools also facing
the bandstand; then tables curving right to the back. There was nothing fancy:
low-wattage lighting and a funky men's room to the right of the bandstand. The
music was all. After a theme was introduced, Monk would comp for Trane for a
couple of choruses and then get up from the piano and turn him loose while
dancing his elbow-led stutter-steps near the stand before returning to the
piano for his solo. J. J. Johnson, in 1961, told me, "Since Charlie
Parker, the most electrifying sound I've heard in contemporary jazz was
Coltrane playing with Monk at the Five Spot ... It was incredible, like Diz
When the half-year of collaboration ended, many lamented that the quartet had not been documented. Then came the Riverside studio recordings of July '57 with Wilbur Ware and Wilson, released on its Jazzland label a couple of years later; and the September '58 taping by Naima Coltrane at the Five Spot with Trane, Abdul-Malik, and Roy Haynes, first issued as a single CD on Blue Note in '93; and then, with speed corrected, in the complete Monk Blue Note box.
Now, almost miraculously, we have these two Carnegie Hall sets, when that august hall's acoustics were all-purpose. Coltrane soars, Monk is in top form on a fine piano (notice his quick insert of "52nd Street Theme" in the melody statement of "Crepuscule with Nellie" and a snatch of "Off Minor" in his "Bye-Ya" solo); Abdul-Malik supplies a steady bottom; and Wilson, a musician's musician, does what he always did: apply his great skills, aptly, for any group of which he was a part — in this case a very special one.
— IRA GITLER,
52nd Street, Class of W
© -Ashley Kahn, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Nine Months of Monk and Coltrane
“1957 was the year Coltrane truly became Coltrane — on a number of levels — and Thelonious Monk had more than a little to do with it.
During that twelve-month period, Coltrane's penchant for compulsive practice on his horn yielded the first phase of his signature style: slaloming through harmonic changes, playing and replaying scalar patterns, in a creative outpouring critic
famously dubbed "sheets of sound." Coltrane's workaholic nature also
yielded a bumper crop of recordings, including his debut as a leader (Coltrane
on Prestige), the classic Blue Train album (his sole session
for Blue Note), and as a sideman on seven other recordings. His return to free
agent status after his firing from Miles Davis's quintet in April of that year
allowed him to pursue any and all projects at will, to envision life as a
leader in his own right, and — most significantly — to bring his drug
addiction to a cold-turkey end.
In Coltrane's eyes no event in '57 was more personally significant than his trading junk and booze for the spiritual and musical reawakening (of which he later wrote on A Love Supreme] that set the stage for the ten-year creative explosion that followed. No event, that is save for the nine-month residency with an equally generous and iconoclastic spirit.
“I think Monk is one of the true greats of all time. He's a real musical thinker," the saxophonist told Down Beat magazine in 1960. "I learned from him in every way — through the senses, theoretically, technically."
The two had bumped into each other for years. In October of '56, Monk was outraged when he saw Miles strike Coltrane backstage at Cafe
, and immediately offered the saxophonist a
sideman gig. Their first chance to play together occurred the next April on a
Monk session for Riverside Records — which led to ad-hoc instruction in Monk's
"We'd already recorded one song, 'Monk's Mood,' and I liked it so well," Coltrane recalled. "So he invited me around, then I started learning all of his tunes... I'd go by his apartment, and get him out of bed [laughs] — he'd wake up and roll over to the piano and start playing ... he would stop and show me some parts that were pretty difficult, and if I had a lot of trouble, well, he'd get his portfolio out show me the music... sometimes, we'd get just one tune a day. Maybe."
Monk's patience helped Coltrane grasp material unusual and refreshing. Where
had favored blues, ballads, and bebop
workhorses, Monk's songbook of originals — "Epistrophy," "Ruby,
My Dear," "Trinkle, Tinkle"—was riddled with strange melodic
leaps and unexpected rhythmic shifts. It was challenging territory that
intrigued the saxophonist and appealed to his sense of order. As Coltrane's playing
reflected a love of musical logic, blowing solos based on repeated and
reconfigured patterns, so the pianist's compositions revealed a passion for
internal structure that followed precise and playful rules. Monk's structures
laced with Coltrane's frenetic delivery sounded a good match. Davis
In Monk, Coltrane found "a musical architect of the highest order." In Coltrane, Monk found an analytical brother—a musician who shared in his intellectual approach and remained true to the sound and structure of his music. "Monk's music had been played already before Trane with different saxophonists, but I think Trane was more precise," pianist Tommy Flanagan once noted. "He was more careful about learning things exactly like Monk meant."
It was July of '57 when the partnership went public. Monk's long-lost cabaret license had been renewed, and he began an extended residency at
5 Cooper Square — with bassist Wilbur Ware, drummer Shadow
Wilson, and his new student at his side. "As soon as he got the job at the
Five Spot," Coltrane remembered, We went right in."
Even after the home study sessions, Coltrane still seemed — to one witness at least — unprepared for their live debut.
"When [Coltrane] played with Monk I was there every night I think," Steve Lacy told radio producer Steve Rowland. "It started out... very clumsy, very obscure, very maladroit, and then each night it got a little more relaxed." Coltrane had little choice but to find his place in the mix. He was the sole melody instrument on the bandstand.” "Yeah, I felt a little lonesome up there!" Coltrane later recalled with amusement.
Being the lone horn player supplied the saxophonist the chance to extend his solos further than ever before — as well as an opportunity to hear himself progress in a quartet setting (soon to become his favorite and most famous context). By the end of Monk's Five Spot run in December, "it got into a kind of security," Lacy reported. "Into a freedom and into a wild abandon. To watch that unfold was a revelation."
Equally revelatory — for generations who never witnessed Monk and Coltrane together— is the recently unearthed tape of their
November 29,1957 performance at Carnegie Hall.
Talk about a rare moment within an ail-too brief overlap! Coltrane was weeks away from rejoining Miles, with whom he would soon pursue modal pathways and record the masterpiece Kind of Blue. Bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik had replaced Ware. In the mere 51 minutes of the group's two sets that evening, one can glean the inevitability in the Monk-Coltrane union: their appetite for reinventing old with new, shifting rhythms (check "Sweet and Lovely"!). Their adoration of Art Tatum arpeggios. Their complementary solo styles — breathless vs. halting, fluid vs. staccato — and both melodically inventive to an extreme.
We may never know whether this music marked the pinnacle or merely a
in their relationship. By all reports, it
was one of many. What we can know in hearing these performances is that
together they achieved a rare balance of precision and passion. Enough to
propel the saxophonist on a journey to stellar regions, and to make 1957 a
banner year for both.” high point
— ASHLEY KAHN, June 2005. Ashley Kahn is author of Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece (Da Capo Press) and A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album (Viking).
The following video feature Thelonious, John, Ahmed and Shadow on Monk’s Epistrophy, the closing tune of the first set of the
29, 1957 Carnegie