Although he has been gone now 39 years, and it has been much longer since he stopped writing, no composer of modern jazz has garnered more attention from his fellow musicians than Thelonious Monk, whose work is the subject of a continuous stream of tribute recordings. Groups as diverse as the Bobby Broom Trio, the Microscopic Septet and John Beasley and MONK’estra have assembled releases from their favorite compositions, but Miles Okazaki, in a solo set, and the Frank Kimbrough Quartet have gone all in with releases of every known Monk composition – the ultimate homage. Tributes to the composer Thelonious Monk in this hour and the next of Jazz at 100 Today!
Monk on Guitar
Monk recorded most frequently in one of three formats – solo piano, piano trio and piano/tenor quartet. Recently there have been several projects of Monk’s music with neither a piano nor a tenor. Notable are Miles Okazaki’s solo guitar recordings and the guitar-bass-drums trios of Leon Lee Dorsey and Bobby Broom.
Miles Okazaki released a staggering set entitled Work in 2018 to celebrate Monk’s Centennial. In six discs, he recorded solo guitar versions of all 74 known Monk compositions. On AllAboutJazz, Mark Corrotto makes the interesting assertion that this is what Monk would have sounded like if he was a guitarist. Among the wealth of interpretations is a version of Trinkle Tinkle that makes the tangled melody seem simple and an arrangement of Epistrophy that sounds improbable as the work of a single guitarist. Okazaki makes the mammoth project into a guitar clinic.
While recording extensively as a sideman, bassist Leon Lee Dorsey had not recorded a disc on his own since 1999, until he teamed up with Greg Skaff on guitar and Mike Clark on drums as DSC to release Monk Time in 2019. According to Chris M. Slawecki, “The comfortable space around and between each instrument gives Monk Time an airy and spacious, cool jazz feel. For example, Monk’s Dream is recorded so cleanly that it gives you the chance to hear the melody split between bassist Dorsey as the pianist’s “left hand” and guitarist Skaff as his “right,” with Clark’s butterfly cymbals fluttering between to connect them both.”
In 2009, Chicago-guitarist Bobby Broom and his long-time trio of bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Kobie Watkins released a set of Monk tunes entitled Bobby Broom Plays for Monk, with his characteristic soul jazz feel.
Trinkle Tinkle. Miles Okazaki solo
(Miles Okazaki-g). From Work. Self Produced. 2018. First released on a 1953 Prestige single and included on the LP Thelonious Monk Trio.
Epistrophy. Miles Okazaki solo
(Miles Okazaki-g). From Work. Self Produced. 2018. First released on a 1948 Blue Note single and included on the LP Genius of Modern Music, Volume 1.
Monk’s Dream. DSC
(Greg Skaff-g, Leon Lee Dorsey-b, Mike Clark-d). From Monk Time. JazzAvenue 1 Records. 2019. First released on a 1953 Prestige single and included on the LP Thelonious Monk Trio.
Bemsha Swing. Bobby Broom Trio
(Bobby Broom-g, Dennis Carroll-b, Kobie Watkins-d). From Bobby Broom Plays For Monk. Origin Records. 2009. First released on the 1953 Prestige LP Thelonious.
Monk From Piano Trios
Young pianist Joey Alexander assembled a high-profile trio with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Willie Jones III for a June 2017 date at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room and then proceeded to record a notable set of Monk compositions which was released as Joey.Monk.Live! The set’s Ugly Beauty features beautiful interplay between Alexander and Colley.
Among the almost annual releases by pianist Eric Reed over the past thirty years are three explorations of Monk’s music under the titles The Adventurous Monk, The Dancing Monk and The Baddest Monk. The latter release features both quintet and trio recordings, with the trio consisting of Reed with Matt Clohesy on bass and Henry Cole on drums. Their version of Monk’s Mood is particularly gentle and beautiful.
Ugly Beauty. Joey Alexander Trio
(Joey Alexander-p, Scott Colley-b, Willie Jones III-d). From Joey.Monk.Live! Motema. 2017. First released on the 1967 Columbia LP Underground.
Monk’s Mood. Eric Reed Trio
(Eric Reed-p, Matt Clohesy-b, Henry Cole-d). From The Baddest Monk. Savant. 2012. First released on a 1950 Blue Note single and included on the LP Genius of Modern Music, Volume 2.
Monk From Piano – Tenor Sax Collaborations
Like Miles Okazaki, pianist Frank Kimbrough took on the monumental task of recording all known Monk compositions for his six-disc 2018 release, Monk’s Dream. The work uses solo, duo, trio and quartet combinations of Kimbrough with Scott Robinson on a wide range of mostly low-register reeds, Rufus Reed on bass and Billy Drummond on drums. In his review for AllAboutJazz, Victor L. Schemer wrote, ”Ruby My Dear is one of the greatest ballads ever written, with its subtle inflections and implied key changes. Here, it’s done as a duet with Robinson performing beautifully on tenor sax accompanied by Kimbrough’s piano….Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are is a Monk masterpiece, and [Scott Robinson’s] tenor sax playing naturally invites a comparison with Sonny Rollins and Ernie Henry on Monk’s  Brilliant Corners… Monk’s playing on that recording comes through like a magnifying glass of his sophistication with rhythmic complexities. Over half a century later, Rufus Reid’s playful bass walk captures the Monk feeling to a ’t’.”
Tenor player Tim Warfield is no stranger to the trumpet-tenor quintet having collaborated over the years with trumpeters Nicholas Payton and Terell Stafford. For Spherical, his 2015 Monk tribute, he teams with trumpeter Eddie Henderson in a quintet that also features Orrin Evans on piano, Ben Wolfe on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. On the opener Blue Hawk, Evans, in particular, captures the slightly off-kilter under-current that is characteristic of Monk at his best.
Ruby My Dear. Frank Kimbrough – Scott Robinson duo
(Scott Robinson-ts, Frank Kimbrough-p). From Monk’s Dream. Sunnyside Communications. 2018. First released on a 1949 Blue Note single and included on the LP Genius of Modern Music, Volume 1.
Blue Hawk. Tim Warfield Quintet
(Eddie Henderson-tp, Tim Warfield-ts/ss, Orrin Evans-p, Ben Wolfe-b, Clarence Penn-d). From Spherical. Criss Cross Jazz. 2015. First released on the 1959 Riverside LP Alone in San Francisco.
Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are. Frank Kimbrough Quartet
(Scott Robinson-ts, Frank Kimbrough-p, Rufus Reid-b, Billy Drummond-d). From Monk’s Dream. Sunnyside Communications. 2018. First released on the 1957 Riverside LP Brilliant Corners.
It is often said, without proof, that Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington are the most covered composers in jazz. It is probably true. What is notable is that Monk achieved that stature having penned just slightly more than 70 compositions while Ellington composed more than 1100 tunes. As this program was being prepared the news came that Frank Kimbrough passed away. His landmark Monk release may have been his last release.
Corroto, Mark. (2018, August 31). AllAboutJazz. Miles Okazaki: Work: The Complete Compositions Of Thelonious Monk. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/work-the-complete-compositions-of-thelonious-monk-miles-okazaki-self-produced-review-by-mark-corroto.php
Slawecki, Chris M. (2019, November 30). AllAbputJazz. DSC Band: Monk Time. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/monk-time-dsc-band-jazz-avenue-records
Barron, John. (2009, June 14). AllAboutJazz. Bobby Broom: Plays For Monk. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/plays-for-monk-bobby-broom-origin-records-review-by-john-barron.php
Bilawsky, Dan. (2017, October 14). AllAboutJazz. Joey Alexander: Joey.Monk.Live! https://www.allaboutjazz.com/joeymonklive-joey-alexander-motema-music-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php
Greenlee, Steve. (2012, June 23). JazzTimes. Eric Reed: The Baddest Monk. https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/eric-reed-the-baddest-monk/
Schermer, Victor L. (2018, November 27). AllAboutJazz. Frank Kimbrough: Monk’s Dreams. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/monks-dreams-frank-kimbrough-sunnyside-records-review-by-victor-l-schermer.php
Luhn, Andrew. (2015, March 16). AllAboutJazz. Tim Warfield: Spherical: Dedicated To Thelonious Sphere Monk. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/spherical-dedicated-to-thelonious-sphere-monk-tim-warfield-criss-cross-review-by-andrew-luhn.php
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