I spent the whole day stuck indoors, watching the snow pile up. Two inches, four, eight, sixteen and counting. I have power and heat but my weekend gigs have been canceled because of the storm. With my newfound free time I went through my vinyl collection, listening to albums I haven’t heard in a while, reminiscing about the snowy night I bought my first jazz record.
I started by choosing albums at random, but once I put on Thelonious Monk’s Alone in San Francisco I knew his music would be the soundtrack to my day. I haven’t found good lead sheets for the tunes here, so I took some time to get them on paper. The first is from that same solo record.
There is a short version of this blues in one of my fake books, but Monk plays the theme twice, the second time displaced two beats. It also features one of his trademark whole tone runs in bar 16.
Boo Boo’s Birthday
Boo Boo’s Birthday is classic Monk. The rhythms and melody are cheerful but odd and jarring. Notable about this tune is the 5 bar bridge, which brings the form to an abrupt halt just when it sounds like it’s going somewhere else. This is from Underground, released in 1968. It seems to have been the style in the late 60s to feature rooms full of junk on your album covers, like one of those “I Spy” games. I appreciate the work that must have gone into staging that photo in a fake bomb shelter, but it has nothing to do with the music. I’d prefer just a tasteful closeup of Monk in a funny hat.
Brake’s Sake is one of those Monk songs I rarely hear played or discussed. It’s a good example of how he uses moving chromatic lines to complement the melody. This head just wouldn’t sound the same without Butch Warren’s rising bassline driving it along. Also, despite my version claiming a tempo of 140, it’s more fun to play at around 200bpm.
Monk often said the bridge is the most important part of a composition, but I find this one more incongruous than most. Maybe that’s why this song has fallen off the radar while a very similar tune like Green Chimneys is still a standard.