Thelonious Monk: 'Thelonious Himself'

The cover of Thelonious Himself

[MUSIC]

A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: That singular sense of time, harmony, and melodic interpretation is none other than Thelonious Monk. Here, he solos, Murray Horwitz. Why do you think that this solo Thelonious Monk is crucial to the NPR Basic Jazz Library listener?

MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: Well, first of all, A.B., Thelonious Monk was one of the great solo players in all of jazz. He had what the drummer Paul Motian called a "rhythmic-ness" to his music, even when he's playing out of tempo, or even when he's being very freely expressive at the keyboard. It's one of the most identifiable sounds in all of music. And it's fun. I mean, he keeps you off balance every step of the way. And the clarity of his ideas is evident throughout all of these recordings.

SPELLMAN: It seems to me that Monk had a peculiar kind of metronome. You know that the strict beat is there, but on the other hand, he's going to be subdividing in so many different ways that where he actually chooses to place the note is played against the implied rhythm.

HORWITZ: That's right. And that's a terrific definition of swing.

[MUSIC]

SPELLMAN: Monk has many of his own compositions on here. There is his signature piece, "'Round Midnight," the one he's best known for.

HORWITZ: And there's an interesting thing about that. As many of the CDs they do nowadays, this includes an alternate take. But this alternate take is not the usual six or seven minute jazz performance. This is a 21-minute exploration of "'Round Midnight" by the composer.

[MUSIC]

SPELLMAN: Now, sometimes Monk's writing gets absolutely spooky. And I think that "Monk's Mood" is one of those compositions, which seems to be off in another dimension somewhere.

HORWITZ: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. Well, let's listen to some of it.

[MUSIC]

HORWITZ: And it is a little bit spooky, but what keeps it warm, and gives it a lot of humanity, here. This is the one ensemble piece on the CD. And what an ensemble it is: the bassist Wilber Ware and the tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. And if you listen to what Monk does behind them, he's commenting all the time, and he still has his great sense of humor, and that great poignancy, all wrapped up in one. And it's a beautiful piece.

[MUSIC]

SPELLMAN: This is music for your NPR Basic Jazz Record Library. We're recommending Thelonious Himself, piano solos by Thelonious Monk. The CD was recorded originally on the Riverside label. And it's released here on the Original Jazz Classics label. For NPR Jazz, I'm A.B. Spellman.

HORWITZ: And I'm Murray Horwitz.

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