Sunday, July 21, 2019

Peter Bernstein Plays Monk

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“I’ve heard other guitarists play Monk and really stress the oddness and the angularity and to a degree I like what Peter did because its very counter to how most people would approach the [repertoire].
- Greg Scholl, president and chief executive of Xanadu/The Orchard

“To his credit, the translation goes almost unnoticed. What sticks out instead is Bernstein’s soulful affinity to the material and the dapper chatter of his partners, Doug Weiss on bass and Bill Stewart on drums.”
- AllAboutJazz website publicity department

“The way Monk approaches basic harmony is fascinating. He could be playing something within a chord with his right hand and strike one note with his left hand that was right in the middle of that chord. It’s the constant surprises.”
-Peter Bernstein, Jazz guitarist

You don’t often hear Monk’s music played on guitar.

One would suspect that this is primarily because Monk’s songs are physically scaled for the piano and its sharp intervals and tangled clusters don’t fall as naturally on a guitar’s fretboard.

On the other hand, as guitarist Peter Bernstein observed: “There lots of space in Monk’s music and you don’t have to fill up all the space. And in his music the rhythmic element is already there – it’s already swinging.”

So it would seem that for a Jazz guitarist to play Monk’s music, one would have to complement the affinities while at the same time finding ways around the challenges it represents to the guitar.

Commenting about his Monk [Xanadu/The Orchard] CD, guitarist Peter Bernstein further explained to Eric Fine in his April 2009 JazzTimes article on Peter:

“‘Monk’s music is very sophisticated music and also very rooted and it has great strength in its simplicity. When I got into it, I found that certain voicings did lay on the guitar because of the spacing. It’s really not the sound of the piano … it’s the sound of Monk playing the piano.’

Even so, Bernstein struggled at times to translate the music to the guitar because of the instrument’s technical limitations.

‘I’ve always been frustrated as a guitar player harmonically,’ he said, ‘because you can’t play all the notes like a piano player can. The range is smaller, and it’s harder to play closer voicings on the guitar because you have to stretch between strings.”

George Kantzer in his review for offered these thoughts about Peter’s accomplishments on his Monk CD: 

“Thelonious Monk  never employed or recorded with a guitarist (save early bootlegged jam sessions with Charlie Christian and a big band with Howard Roberts) and his piano playing and arranging can hardly be called guitar-like. Hearing guitar play Monk's music is like hearing an orchestral version of a Wagner opera aria; it reveals a wholly different aspect of the music. … 

And Bernstein is a graceful guitarist who polishes the rough pianistic edges Monk gouged into his tunes." 

Summing it up, Bernstein said: “Monk has his own musical universe. For me he was the sound of New York – like home.”

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