Reissue Of Thelonious Monk's 'Riverside Recordings' Shows A Star On The Rise Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a reissue of The Complete Riverside Recordings of pianist Thelonious Monk. He says it's really the story of two men: Monk and late record producer Orrin Keepnews.


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Reissue Of Thelonious Monk's 'Riverside Recordings' Shows A Star On The Rise

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This is FRESH AIR. An acclaimed 1980s box set of "The Complete Riverside Recordings" of pianist Thelonious Monk has been reissued for the second time. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says it's really the story of two men - Monk, and record producer Orrin Keepnews who died in March. Here's Kevin's review.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Thelonious Monk's "Brilliant Corners" from 1956 with Max Roach on drums. It's in a new miniaturized version of a grand old box of Monk's "Complete Riverside Recordings." His producer at the label, Orrin Keepnews, was a longtime admirer. He was also a good writer who, in his lengthy notes, explains what he and Monk were up to in the late '50s. To make that composer and elliptical pianist more accessible, Keepnews suggested Monk record two LPs of standards, starting with an all-Ellington program. It underscored the spare, percussive piano tradition Duke and Monk shared.


WHITEHEAD: Monk on "Mood Indigo." Thelonious Monk and Orrin Keepnews got together at an opportune time. In 1957, saxophonist John Coltrane joined Monk's band, to their mutual fame and benefit. They had the attraction of opposites. The pianist left holes the music, and Coltrane eagerly filled them up. This is one of Monk's trickiest pieces, "Trinkle Tinkle."


WHITEHEAD: Riverside didn't get to record Monk and Coltrane live during their celebrated run at the Five Spot Club. There were contractual difficulties. But that summer of 1957, producer Keepnews put Monk and his friend, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, together with the Five Spot rhythm section - Wilbur Ware on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums. As ever, Monk's playing behind a soloist can sound more like sabotage than support, but Mulligan was into it.


WHITEHEAD: Gerry Mulligan on "I Mean You." At Riverside, Monk recorded 15 CD's worth of material in trios, quartets, quintet, sextets and a septet, all with barely a misstep and more notable players than we can mention. Orrin Keepnews didn't come up with the idea for Monk's 10-piece little-big band, but he was at Town Hall to record their concert. For "Little Rootie Tootie," arranger Hall Overton took Monk's piano solo from an earlier version and harmonized it for seven horns.


WHITEHEAD: After the Coltrane quartet and the hot Town Hall big band, Thelonious Monk's star was rising. When a second Riverside contract was up in 1961, he jumped to big-money Columbia records. That label would get him on the cover of Time Magazine, but would mostly record his quartet over and over. To finish out his old contract, Riverside issued a 1961 Italian concert by that same quartet with Charlie Rouse on saxophone, a preview of years to come. That concert was part of a six-week European tour - Monk's first of many. It was another sign he'd finally hit the big time. His years at Riverside had gotten him over the hump.


GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Thelonious Monk: The Complete Riverside Recordings," which has been reissued for the second time. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, a follow-up to our discussion about upspeak and vocal fry. Young men and women, particularly women, who have those vocal characteristics are often accused of sounding irritating, uncertain and lacking in authority. What's going on? We'll talk with a linguist who studies language and gender, a speech and language pathologist and a journalist who's been criticized for her voice. I hope you'll join us.

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