I saw Monk at the Five Spot he said. He saw Trane at some little dive too. I remember walking down the street in Harlem, he said, and there was a piece of paper in a bar room window with a hand written George Benson in letters almost too small to read. Went inside for a beer and heard this young cat just burning on guitar. He was playing jazz back then. I can’t remember who was on the B3. I remember seeing Lee Morgan at the Lighthouse, the other guy said. Bennie Maupin was on tenor. The same band on the LP that’s playing now, listen. I listened: Bennie was cooking, then in comes Lee, solid. I remember the music was so good, he said, and Lee so right on and I was so happy and before I knew it I was drunk. I mean drunk. My ride had split, they were sweeping the floor and stacking the chairs and I had to walk home from Hermosa Beach to Inglewood. Damn man, how far was that? It was twenty miles. Hangover hit me about halfway there. He shook his head at the memory. But man, Lee Morgan sounded so good.

Home is where the floor is

Threw a mess of Monk in the changer and let it spin, just like him, come to think of it. Will be hearing Charlie Rouse in my sleep. OK with me. But getting ready to write a book review and I needed to soak my head in Monk, since he’s in the book, everywhere, weird and brilliant and spinning and not talking and grunting and maybe high a little too much. Being Monk, just Monk, pure Monk, monkishly Monk. Monk.

Green Chimneys was it, the last tune, and after Green Chimneys all was silent except the water trickling through the aquarium filter–the fish are moving but silent–and the sounds of these words coming out the keys, tap tap tappity tap. Tap. In the middle of the big bad city and all you can here is the tap of words, letter by letter, tap tap tap. Continue reading

Thelonious Monk

It’s Thelonious Monk’s birthday today. He was born on October 10, 1917 which would make him a zillion years old almost. Hard to believe. You listen to a Monk tune and it sounds now, right now, not a zillion years old. Trane is like that too. They were both from North Carolina, a hop, skip and a decade apart. People don’ t come from small towns in North Carolina and change music forever anymore. Those were different times.

I never saw Monk, something I’ve always regretted. I have the documentaries,  Straight, No Chaser and the others, and watch him play, hear him speak, marvel at his dancing crazy circles across the stage. I think man, if only I could have been there. I could have seen him, in his later years, but I was nowhere near hip enough. It takes age to realize what how unhip you’d been as a kid. Unhip at least to what had been around since before you were born. You always catch on too late. But then I dove in deep. A zillion CD’s, listening all the time. The movie Straight, No Chaser. The book Straight, No Chaser. I still don’t have all his albums, there are so many. What an amazing string of releases, across what, four labels?  Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside and a big fat deal with Columbia. His music—the tunes were terrific, Monk could write a memorable melody to say the least, and his whole approach to the piano was kind of crazy. Powerful fingers plonking out big crashes of chords, or hanging above the keyboard, waiting to pounce. Then he’d whomp a comp so hard it might startle a more fragile band, but his players dealt with it, thrived on it, though at times might have been confused by it. And I loved the way he’d tinkle the keys between those whomps, laying out the melody with big fat notes, like Count Basie notes but lurching and sudden and surprisingly sensitive. I loved his striding swing, a stride you don’t hear anymore and probably didn’t hear much then. But Monk loved to stride. And then there were the ballads. They lilted in their own way and broke my heart.  On Monk Himself, I’d listen to all those out-takes of Round Midnight, one try after another, the man struggling to come up with exactly the music he wanted. Finally, beautifully, it emerges. It’s almost spooky. The album was recorded on April 12 and 16, 1957, but if you wade through the liner notes (this was back when I waded through liner notes) it says how actually that was from a late night session on April 5. The studio was in New York City somewhere, I’d have to dig out the liner notes for the street and borough. About that exact same time, an hour south along the Jersey shore but closer as a crow would fly, I was being born. A nice coincidence. No significance, but a nice coincidence for me, anyway. I thought about telling someone but never did. They wouldn’t get it. I just listen to Monk laboring through Round Midnight and imagine Mom laboring with me. I was a rough birth, a huge kid, her first. They used forceps back then, just squeezed and pulled as she squeezed and pushed. Finally, about the time Monk worked out the melody, I emerged. He played, I bawled.

I think about this a lot as I listen to Monk. I don’t dwell on it, but I think about it.

Back in 2006 some hip brewery in northern California came up with a rich brown ale and called it Brother Thelonious. I can’t remember why they called it that, or what was in it, but I remember it was bitter and dark. One of those Belgian things. You can still buy it. I see it at jazz parties, sometimes, though it ain’t cheap and jazz people are so I don’t see it that often. The brewery had a Brother Thelonious release party in Santa Monica in 2006. (Can a beer have a release party?) The Monk Institute provided the music..Walter Smith III and I believe Ambrose Akinmusire were featured soloists. Maybe even Gerald Clayton. They didn’t look too thrilled performing at a beer party. The tunes were all Monk. A little restrained, maybe–the Institute keeps a tight leash–but then the marketers didn’t want to scare the folks. Monk done Monkishly can still scare the folks. We got several bottles of the ale–they were handing them out–but they were guzzled by lushes at our Christmas party. I recall them discussing Monk in slurred admiration. We also got the cool poster. It still hangs in the kitchen. Been there six years now. Happy birthday, Thelonious. If it hadn’t been for you I’d never have become a jazz writer. If it hadn’t been for you I’d never have been. Well, not really, but there hasn’t been a birthday of mine in years that I haven’t listened to that final take of Round Midnight.

Free advertising.

Ginsberg and Monk

Damn, I love this shot. It’s so perfect, you can just feel the revolutionary energy. Ginsberg and Monk, who both changed everything, Ginsberg awestruck, Monk doing his Monk thing. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed, Ginsberg said. Hrumph, said Monk, agreeing, or something

Allen Ginsberg and Thelonious Monk, backstage at the Monterey Jazz Festival, 1963, in a perfect photo by Jim Marshall.

Allen Ginsberg and Thelonious Monk, backstage at the Monterey Jazz Festival, 1963, in a perfect photo by Jim Marshall.

Thrift store jazz, Part 1

Listening to the incredible Buddy Rich Big Band LP Mercy Mercy I picked up when the annoying lady in the Santa hat wasn’t looking, and that Don Menza solo was so freaking good I had to listen to it again. And dig that little flurry by Art Pepper. Had to listen to that twice, too. (Lifting up the tone arm and dropping it again, guessing, almost got it right. CD’s are easier.) Buddy is soloing now, going nuts, and it’s 1968, and it’s no “Toad”.

Also got this great collection of sides by aggregations led (supposedly led) by Jack Teagarden and Max Kaminsky, Big T and the Mighty Max. One of the those Commodore reissue things from the ’70’s, with cheap creepy artwork. Aesthetics got very strange in the seventies. No one buys these things, not even for a buck–no one buys anything pre-be bop–and whenever grandpa dies and his beloved record collection gets dumped at the thrift store record bins, his beautifully maintained albums sit there unloved amid the beat up Mantovani and disco and Barbara Streisand. But I’m a sucker for the things. Now, all the older jazzers remember Jack Teagarden, of course, one of the greatest trombonists of all time, and a singer up there, almost, with Louis Armstrong. He was that good. (Check out their priceless duet on Old Rocking Chair to become an instant fan.) Kaminsky is better known to The Swinging Years listeners and he’s blowing hot on this LP. Great bands, in the Eddie Condon style, in fact Eddie is on some of the cuts, sounding old style slick on guitar, and you can imagine the drinking and carrying on. This is mostly World War Two era stuff, and the endless notes on the back cover by some expert or other points out how these barrelhouse jazz bands (I love that term, “barrelhouse jazz”) were stock full of refugees from swing bands who either couldn’t hack the road schedules or just wanted to blow instead of reading charts all night but couldn’t or just wouldn’t adapt to be bop. It’s a forgotten time, in between big band swing and small group bop, but the jazz on here swings like a mothereffer (this is a family blog) and I flipped it over a couple times and let the stuff rock as I prep the house to be trashed all over again. That Kaminsky, he’s on fire here, this must have been his moment. And Teagarden, well I can never get enough of him. Oh yeah, there was the torrid dirty clarinet solo instantly recognizable as Pee Wee Russell. One of the sad little greats, Pee Wee. If I remember right he even did a set with Monk–playing Monk’s music–at Newport. Can’t remember if I saw film of that or have it here in the piles of CDs somewhere, but it was a trip, Pee Wee playing his ass off and thinking in ways guys his jazz age never thought. We laugh but how many of us can do that? We sit surrounded by the past like it’s the present and bitch about the new. Anyway, I picked this up with a random selection of cool LPs at the Out of the Closet in Atwater Village while looking for a coffee table. Nada on the table but the LPs are fun. Considering I sold off so much of my collection to pay for epilepsy medicine before coverage kicked in, I actually have room for new LPs again. If only I had sold off more books. I keep buying them and they’re stacked up here on the floor, all these big thick wordy non-fiction tomes, mocking me. The absurdities of bohemian life.

Buddy at Timothy Leary's pad, grokking with the universe.

Buddy at Timothy Leary’s pad, grokking with the universe before he kicks some hippie trumpeter off the bus.