Café Mouffe: Thelonious Monk

After writing about Thelonious Monk on the 90th anniversary of his birth, I had to devote this week’s Mouffe to Monk. The weather here has changed finally from blasting summer heat to somber autumn chill, a time that always puts me in the mood to hear the rhythmically incisive, bare-boned compositions of masters like Monk, Andrew Hill, and Ornette Coleman. Turns out there is a wealth of Monk material on YouTube, much of it filmed on spare European sound stages in 60s-style cinéma vérité, which suits my mood today.

Set 1: ‘Round Midnight, recorded in 1966 in Oslo. The lineup includes Thelonious Monk (piano), the incomparable Charlie Rouse (tenor), Larry Gales (bass), and Ben Riley (drums). This take has a comeback coda that lingers like a last kiss… ’round midnight.

Set 2: Blue Monk, recorded in the same 1966 Oslo performance with the same lineup. Monk does some mesmerizing crossed-hands keyboard prestidigitation on this one. Be advised, kids: if you try this at home, your piano teacher might rap your knuckles.

Set 3: Ruby, My Dear, recorded in concert in Paris, 1969. That’s Charlie Rouse again on tenor. I’m guessing that the bassist and drummer are the same as above. This is the tune Lorraine Gordon heard as Monk was composing it in the 1940s, the tune she hoped he’d name for her.

This edition of Café Mouffe goes out to my friend Tom Roberts, who is painting a tribute to abstract expressionism on the ceiling of his studio in Tennessee, all the while listening to pure jazz on satellite radio. Think Michelangelo with mud in his eye, grooving to cosmic vibes echoing off the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

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4 Responses to Café Mouffe: Thelonious Monk

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  2. Tom Roberts says:

    I find an incredible joy in shutting out the sense-numbing broadcasts in my world–television, unwanted phone calls, to-do lists–and barricading myself in my studio with invited companions that enliven my senses–jazz on satellite radio, Isabell the studio cat, and an impractical, stimulating project like expressively painting a ceiling. While driving a car, I find some of the jazz irititating, but while working alone in my studio, every tune sounds melodious.

  3. Mark Willis says:

    Thanks for writing, Tom. I just figured out how the comment que works so I could publish it. Sorry for the serious time lag!

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