Thelonious Monk Orchestra: 'At Town Hall'

The cover of At Town Hall

[MUSIC]

MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: That was a blast of original thinking back in 1959! Hello, I'm Murray Horwitz. That was pianist/composer Thelonious Monk running a pretty big band through its paces. It's from the CD Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall, and we're putting it into the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library for a couple of reasons. First, it's an important expression of a very important jazz composer. And second, it's a whole lot of fun.

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HORWITZ: Thelonious Monk's story in jazz is a bit curious. His music has been described as angular, cubist, and well, odd. It wasn't embraced by everybody when he first started playing in New York with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and other modern jazz innovators in the '40s. But by the 1950s, he was a bonafide jazz star. And, in 1964, he was on the cover of Time magazine. It's almost as if the music caught up to his unique way of hearing things.

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HORWITZ: Mostly when you think of bebop, you think of quartets and quintets. Less often, young composers get to hear their music spread over a big band arrangement. This concert, from February 1959, was one of the few times Monk's music was recorded by a large ensemble. The arranger for the date was Hal Overton, who was on the faculty at the Juilliard School of Music. It was an odd pairing of a jazz iconoclast and a conservatory arranger. But as you can hear, in the end, it was a very good fit.

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HORWITZ: One test of good composition is how well it stands up to reinterpretation. This music truly does. The CD is called The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall and it's on the Riverside label. For NPR Jazz, I'm Murray Horwitz.

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