Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Giants Of Jazz

The Giants Of Jazz
Live In Europe 1971
(Gambit Records)

Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet)
Thelonious Monk (piano)
Sonny Stitt (alto & tenor sax)
Kai Winding (trombone)
Art Blakey (drums)
Al McKibbon (bass)

This is one of those "I wish I was there" type moments. The Giants Of Jazz as it was billed, toured Europe and Asia. This wasn't the first time some of these musicians had worked together (Gillespie and Stitt worked together regularly as did Monk and Blakey). At this point in their lives, each musician hadn't fully entered into the twilight of their careers but their milestone albums had all been recorded.

They may have been considered "elder statesmen" but they were still smokin' hot during this time. The tour was the brain-child of the powerful Jazz producer, George Wein; Each member of the band put aside their current projects for the tour. You would think that a band of this magnitude would have all sorts of personality conflicts--there were none.

The tour was sort of a comeback for Thelonious Monk who had been in a semi-retirement but felt compelled to join the supergroup. Monk actually sounds like he never left the scene. The dates spanned two years and have been bootlegged in various forms but never truly complete. The most recent release of material includes performances from three shows (Warsaw, Milan and Boblingen); These dates are smokin as well as surprising.

There is the expected overshadowing of the band by the buoyant Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet. Monk does an amazing job on the rendition of Gillespie's material in particular "A Night In Tunsia" and "Woody 'N You." Blakey's precision is spot on; especially on the solo during "A Night In Tunsia" on the Milan date. In turn, the band does a beautiful and delicate balancing act with the Monk penned pieces of "'Round Midnight" and "I Mean You." Don't be surprised if you find yourself moving along to the stellar thread Al McKibbon performs on bass throughout (specifically Blue n' Boogie).

The real stars of these dates are actually Sonny Stitt (sax) and Kai Winding (trombone), as their work carries enormous weight throughout each date. As some of the playing from Monk and Gillespie sometimes seems subdued at points, that might have been only to let the two legendary horn men work their magic...and they do with excellent results.

The Giants Of Jazz Live In Europe 1971 is one of those true gems of a find--if you can find it. It's not a very expensive two disc set, so if you're looking for a real document and an unbelievable lineup that I don't think could ever be matched by today's artists, be on the lookout for The Giants Of Jazz. The title sometimes varies but most recently it has been attributed to Dizzy Gillespie & Thelonious Monk.

Below is a video from that tour. I do believe this exists on DVD which would be awesome to own.

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