1. Brilliant Corners
2. Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are
2. I Surrender, Dear
3. Bemsha Swing
Thelonious Monk, Piano (also Celeste on Pannonica)
Ernie Henry, Alto Sax
Sonny Rollins, Tenor Sax
Oscar Pettiford – Bass
Max Roach – Drums (also Tympany of Bemsha Swing)
New York, December, 1956.
(On Bemsha Swing: Clark Terry – Trumpet, replaces Henry. Paul Chambers – Bass, replaces Pettiford.)
I Surrender, Dear is an unaccompanied Piano solo.
THELONIOUS MONK remains among the most challenging, provocative and disturbing figures in modern music. He has consistently been described in such terms for as long as he has been on the jazz scene – which is precisely as long as there has been modern jazz, for Monk of course was one of the principal molders of the new jazz. He will very probably continue to he described this way. For Monk's music is decidedly not designed for casual listening. Everything he writes and plays is jazz into which an important creative talent has put more than a little of himself. Thus, inevitably, Monk and his music demand the most difficult thing any artist can require of his audience – attention.
Thelonious Monk's music can also be among the most rewarding in modern jazz. And it is that (to those who will listen) for exactly the same reasons that it challenges, disturbs and demands: because Monk is himself. What he offers is not smooth, public, relations-conscious artifice or surface skills, but merely the music that is in him and that he is impelled to bring forth. There are men who can bend and shape themselves and their work (perhaps to fit current public taste, perhaps to suit the aims of a stronger artistic personality). There are others whose natural, undiluted self-expression manages to strike a responsive chord in lots of souls, or at least seems to. Finally, there are those non-benders and non-conformers who don't happen even to seem easy to understand. Among these is Monk, and for such men the basic audience can consist only of those who are willing to try a bit to grasp the stimulating, intensely rewarding message that is being sent out.
These comments are not intended as any sort of fairly clever reverse-twist psychology (you know: "only very hip people, like me and like you, who-are-reading-these-notes, can really dig Thelonious"). On the contrary, we at Riverside feel very strongly that the whole emphasis on the exceedingly far-out and "mysterious" nature of Monk's music was seriously overdone during the early years of his career, so that many who would have been interested in listening (and very probably would have found themselves quite able to listen) were frightened away in advance. Fortunately, this situation has been almost completely remedied: there now seem to be quite a few people – including critics, an ever-increasing number of musicians, and a thoroughly hearteningly large number of just plain jazz lovers – willing to make the effort and to reap the rewards of digging Monk. Not only has Thelonious been a consistent winner of, for example, the Down Beat Critics Poll, but in both 1958 and 1959 he ranked just one short step from the top in that magazine's Readers Poll. And club audiences from New York to Chicago to San Francisco, and at many spots in between, have flocked to hear him in person.
This album was actually one of the major factors in the successful battle to win new and wider acceptance for Monk. In the sequence of his Riverside discography, it followed two initial albums (RLPs 12-201 and 12-209) devoted entirely to 'standards,' and offered the first occasion on this label for Thelonious to express himself basically through his own writing. Creating music for five instrumental voices in terms of his personal and unorthodox construction, approach and phrasing, he produced some startlingly brilliant examples of the great depth, wit and strength of his style.
It should be noted at about this point that Monk's music is not only not the easiest listening, it is also not the easiest to play. Musicians could save themselves a lot of trouble by not recording with Monk – but it's a form of trouble that a treat many of the best have long considered a privilege (as well as an education in itself.)
SONNY ROLLINS is a wonderfully inventive, strong-toned artist who has leaped to the front ranks among Tenor men and had amazing and far reaching influence on his contemporaries. ERN1E HENRY worked in Monk's Quartet in 1956 and later with Dizzy Gillespie's big band; his untimely death in 1958 cut short a career of vast promise. Surely OSCAR PETTIFORD and MAX ROACH no longer need fancy descriptive adjectives; by now their names alone tell the story of their pre-eminence. When Henry and Pettiford were unavailable for the album's final session, Thelonious called on top-caliber replacements: CLARK TERRY, a stand-out trumpet with Duke Ellington from 1951-59; and Miles Davis' brilliant young bassist. PAUL CHAMBERS.
These men worked hard. They struggled and concentrated and shook their heads over some passages with those half-smiles that mean: "Hard? This is impossible!" For the original compositions on this date represent Monk at his most inventive and therefore (to repeat myself) at his most challenging. Brilliant Corners, with its uneven meter and its tempo changes, is undoubtedly the real back-breaker, but this doesn't mean that the others are simple: Pannonica, which I'd describe as a near-ballad with guts; the blues, which has lots of extended blowing room (and don't neglect to dig the several things Monk is doing behind the horns); and Bemsha Swing, only one of the four originals not specifically prepared for this record date – Thelonious wrote it several years ago, with drummer Denzil Best, and has recorded it twice previously, but comparison will show that it hasn't remained static during that time.
(A note on the odd title of the blues: it is merely an attempt to set down phonetically the pronounciation Monk insisted on as most fitting for what might most simply be called Blue Bolivar Blues.)
These musicians worked hard, also, because Monk's creativity never stands still: during a preliminary run through of a number, between 'takes' or even during one, changes of phrasing or of detail will evolve, as a constant fusion of arrangement and improvisation keeps taking place. Sometimes even instrumentatinh gets altered a bit. Thelonious came across a celeste in the studio, decided it would go well in Pannonica, and so set it up at right angles to the piano to be able to play celeste with the right hand, piano with the left, during part of this number. Similarly, it was an impromptu bit of experimentation that resulted in Max Roach's ‘doubling’ on tympany and drums through Bemsha Swing, in most unorthodox and effective fashion.
And Monk is a hard task-master at a recording session, a perfectionist ("I've never been satisfied with one of my records yet," he says, and means it) who knows just how he wants each note bent and phrased and who drives the others as hard as he drives himself-which, in an abstract sense, is possibly a little unfair of him.
In the end, it wasn't “impossible" – merely far from easy, and in the end everyone else was satisfied and Monk probably almost satisfied. And the final results are obviously very much worth having accomplished and (to return to the first theme of these comments) worth paying attention to.
Produced and notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS.
Cover designed by PAUL BACON.
Riverside-Reeves SPECTRO-SONIC High Fidelity Engineering.
Recording Engineer: JACK HIGGINS (Reeves Sound Studios).
These liner notes and credits are reproduced directly from the original album. For the full contents and sequence of this Compact Disc, refer to the tray card or label.