Monday, October 11, 2010

Celebrating Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk (piano; b. Oct. 10, 1917 - d. Feb. 17, 1982)

Yesterday was Thelonious Monk's birthday. Now if you have been reading this blog for awhile you know I've written about Monk on numerous occasions. He is one of my favourite artists of all-time. So I won't go into much detail today (you can read previous entries). Today I wanted to celebrate his birthday by discussing three great compilations that give a very complete overview of his genius.

Each compilation covers a specific period and all are fairly inexpensive. You could easily get all the Monk you wanted in one shopping trip. That's not too say that albums like Brilliant Corners (Riverside Records), Criss Cross (Columbia) or It's Monk Time (Columbia) should not be purchased but in a environment where individual albums are becoming harder to find, some of you should at least know about the best collections that would served the purpose well.

The Best Of The Blue Note Years (Blue Note)

This album is also known as 'Round Midnight (in some countries) as well as a couple of other different titles. The track listings vary slight and the covers are definitely different but the history remains the same. These are recordings from '47 - '52 and feature Monk in sessions with Art Blakey, Coleman Hawkins among others. Consider it "the artists as a young man" period. This is Monk delivering some of great skill on standards like "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and "April In Paris" in addition to early versions of his classics (known standards) "Epistrophy," "'Round Midnight," and "In Walked Bud". At first listen it may seems slightly non-descript but once you have submersed yourself in the other two collections you will come back to these recordings with a sense of amazement.

The Definitive Thelonious Monk on Prestige and Riverside (Concord Records; 2CDs)

This recently released compilation is prime material from '52 - '60. It features a host of legends in sessions with Monk, including John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Gigi Gryce, Sonny Rollins are more. It's two discs at an exteremely affordable price (at most places) and includes a large chunk of the classic Monk pieces, "Brilliant Corners," "Trinkle, Trinkle," "Nutty," and "Staight No Chaser". Monk's playing at this point was incredible. This is Monk developing into a very distinct voice on the scene and his compositions becoming more and more potent. His personality was emerging and everyone audiences and critics alike were taking notice.

The Essential Thelonious Monk (Columbia Records, 2CDs)

This technically covers the important works Monk recorded between '62 - '68. It also features some of Monk's finest groups (Charlie Rouse, Frank Dunlop, Butch Warren, Ben Riley) in phenomenal form. The collection includes live recordings, solo work and Monk's adventures into large ensembles. The Essential Thelonious Monk also includes versions of my favourite Monk pieces "Well You Needn't." and "Straight No Chaser". Monk was "on top of the world" at this point but also critically scrutinized. I guess that's part of genius and success. At this point Monk was on the cover of Time magazine and producing records of real quality and distinction (the aforementioned Criss Cross and It's Monk Time).

Many of you may already have one or two of these collections but for those who don't these three compilations would probably give you the best overview of Thelonious Monk you could have (outside of the individual albums and expensive boxed sets). But don't forget there are a treasure trove of live albums which highlight Monk's ability as entertainer, leader and great thinker that are worth seeking out. We have written about on the blog before as well. I hope that you get a chance to purchase any of the above records. You won't be disappointed. And here's to the live of one the great musicians ever. Happy Birthday Monk!

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