The Short Life of Barbara Monk

Monk’s Music is one of my favorite Thelonious Monk albums. It features some of his best composing and arranging throughout, but for me one of the highlights is the lovely opening piece “Abide with Me”. The story I’ve heard about this track is that Thelonious, when asked to provide another “Monk tune” for the record, brought in a four-part arrangement for this hymn penned in 1861 by English organist William Monk.

I’m always touched by Coleman Hawkins’ warm tone as he plays the bass part, and as far as I know his B naturals in bars 1 and 9 are the only change Monk made to the original choral arrangement.

In the same spirit, I thought I’d end my month-long tribute to Thelonious Monk tributes with a song about another Monk, his daughter Barbara (also known as Boo Boo). Composer Ran Blake tells the story of the song here.

Theloniously Speaking

Continuing my collection of Monk tributes this month, here’s one from drummer Roy Brooks.  The pianist on this recording is Geri Allen, another strong voice on the instrument who, like Monk, often sounded thoroughly modern while displaying a reverence for piano tradition.

Theloniously SpeakingTheloniously Speaking

Monk’s Glimpse

Last October this site featured the work of Yusef Lateef, who would have turned 100 years old this month.  This year I think I’ll do the same for another Libra, Thelonious Monk.  Monk’s compositions and style have been widely publicized and studied, so for my homage I’ll be sharing other people’s tributes to the great pianist.

I’ll start with a short one from Andrew Hill, another pianist who has a very personal and iconoclastic musical dialect.  As the title suggests, the tune is an oblique look in Monk’s direction.  The Shades album features some nice moments, but on this track and a few others I feel Andrew trying to pull bassist Rufus Reid and former Monk sideman Ben Riley in directions they don’t expect.

Monk's GlimpseMonk’s Glimpse

Murray’s Steps

Saxophonist David Murray goes a step beyond the well-worn “Coltrane changes” in this deceptively difficult song.  The constant barrage of unrelated major seventh chords makes it hard to solo using bebop cliches that rely on clear V-I resolutions, and the lack of a tonal focal point means it’s easy to lose your place in the form.  This is compounded by the fact that Murray adds an extra bar to the A section to displace the harmonic rhythm and keep things off balance.

Murray's StepsMurray’s Steps