Monk Lives! On October 25-27 Jazz at Lincoln Center celebrates the annual Monk Festival in all three of its venues with world-class talent full of surprises! Thelonious Sphere Monk walked this earth from 1917 to 1982 and during this time changed music forever.
In Rose Theater on October 25-27, The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Plays Monk as the blistering hot Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis continue the annual Monk Festival with new Monk arrangements. Joining the seasoned veterans are promising young newcomers including Joe Block and Matt Wong, both won JALC’s Essentially Ellington Composition/Arrangement competition.
Next door in The Appel Room, it’s Monk’s Dream anchored by forward thinking bassist Russell Hall and a group that includes four drummers and pianist/composer/educator Barry Harris! Hall has a decade-long association with JALC, having honed his chops at Essentially Ellington and late night sessions at Dizzy’s and has progressed into the beautiful Appel Room for two shows a night on October 26 and 27.
“What we have planned I think is something that nobody else has ever seen in jazz. It is to represent what Thelonious Monk would be doing in 2018,” Hall explains. “I have four drummers, three piano players, a trumpet, three saxophones, a tap dancer, one bass, two singers, a guitar player – a lot of drum! Monk’s music brings it all together! I relate a lot to Monk. His music is the deepest music ever written for a small ensemble in jazz. Arguably, the most distinct sound even in comparison to Duke Ellington, you just hear one chord of Monk, you know it’s him!
I look at Thelonious Monk as a prophet. I don’t think of him as just a musician or artist, a troubled mind or anything like that. I literally think he was sent here on this earth to teach people how to be better people – through his music. I mean…I have a tattoo of Thelonious Monk right here on my shoulder! “(laugh)
As a teenager, Monk played the church organ with an evangelist. He later became the house pianist at Minton’s Playhouse. The late Lorraine Gordon booked him his first Village Vanguard gig in 1948. Monk played with John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie…you name it. He was one of the founding fathers of bebop. Hall expresses his sincere respect for Monk, “If you look at everything that could help this music, this jazz music, whether it’s returning back to our dance tradition in the music or refining our aesthetics while retaining the content of our music and the integrity of our music, it’s all there. Monk’s music is so deep, probably also because of everything he had to go through, being ostracized by critics or literally being beaten by the police…he’s been through it. Whether he’s playing in a Baptist revival or playing in his own bands or helping Dizzy Gillespie write his own music, he’s done it all. He’s been an ambassador of this music and he’s way beyond what jazz even represents. Just by the way he looks; this dark, brooding figure with a lot of eccentricities and so unique, but so lovable and affable and you look at a picture of him and see this towering, bearded bear playing the piano who sometimes gets up from the piano and twirling around. He’s lovable as he is dark and mysterious. You don’t know him, but you love him. And you hope to know him. I think that’s the beauty of his music; its dark at the same time it’s light and humorous, it’s heavy and it just makes you want to fall in love. Listen to ‘Round Midnight’ or ‘Ruby My Dear’.
The band for Monk’s Dream includes Monk’s personal friend and jazz legend Barry Harris, who is joined alongside fellow pianist Mathias Picard. The highly respected drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts shares the stage with rising star drummer Kyle Pool. The core ensemble is vibraphonist Joel Ross, vocalist Vuyo Sotashe, trumpeter Bruce Harris, saxophonists Rueben Fox and Julian Lee, guitarist Gabe Schnider, and tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman.
I caught up with Barry Harris and asked him his take on his longtime friend, “The most exciting thing to me is when Monk set me at the piano with him and we played a song over and over. I can’t imagine how many times we did that…sittin’ next to Monk and playing the piano too! (laugh) He was my friend. We were very close. We lived together for about ten years or so until he passed. Monk was Monk. His magic was that one day he decided that he wanted to be different and he proved it. He came upon a different thing. I tell my students, ‘look here, you’ve got to be really advanced musically and then you start studying Monk.’ Monk is like a graduating class study! He wrote the most beautiful ballads. Plus, he was hip enough to write songs on standards. That’s an art. He wrote songs on standards, he played standards and he shows that the ‘Triad’ was very important. He made up a song with two triads,” Harris adds with a laugh.
Hall feels blessed to be performing with the legend that is Barry Harris. “It’s deep that we have Barry Harris on the concert because he also lived with Monk. It’s one thing if somebody writes a book and tells you where he’s from…but if you live with somebody, you see everything that books will never tell you, that critics will never tell you. Besides being a jazz master as Barry Harris is and being so adept at Thelonious Monk’s music, it’s just going to add more to the potency of the performance.”
Hall has been inspired and fulfilled with his JALC working relationship. “I’ve been playing at Jazz at Lincoln Center for almost 10 years now. I started young with Essentially Ellington with braces and tuxedo jackets. I started playing at Dizzy’s in the late night sessions when I was 16 or 17. Everything always comes around full circle. The greatest thing that Jazz at Lincoln Center has always been for me is a playground to experiment. I don’t know if I would consider myself a jazz scientist, but I think I try to use the bandstand and the venues as a place to experiment with audiences; to see what works and what doesn’t, to see what people like and don’t like, to see what gets people to dance.”
Rounding out the Monk Festival is Mostly Monk with the Mike LeDonne Trio in Dizzy’s Club. Organist LeDonne has a strong checklist of jazzers he’s performed with, from Benny Goodman to Milt Jackson to Sonny Rollins. Expect fireworks in Dizzy’s!
Jamaican born Hall also enjoys the club crowd and the general good vibe at JALC, “You meet a lot of people at Jazz at Lincoln Center, not just performers. One night you might run into Cornell West, the day you might run into Spike Lee, the next day you’ll see Wayne Shorter and the next day you meet a barrage of Brazilian tourists that don’t speak any English. You’re always meeting new people and anytime you meet new people you absorb some of their energy. Jazz at Lincoln Center is my home. They asked me to present Thelonious Monk’s music and it is the greatest blessing because I am a very spiritual man. I’m a Rastafarian and it is very much a part of my musical expressions. To me, Thelonious Monk was the first jazz rasta and I hope to be the second!”
Barry Harris lived with Monk for 10 years. “The most exciting thing to me is when Monk set me at the piano with him and we played a song over and over. I can’t imagine how many times we did that…sittin’ next to Monk and playing the piano too! He was my friend. We were very close. We lived together for about ten years or so until he passed. Monk was Monk. His magic was that one day he decided that he wanted to be different and he proved it. He came upon a different thing. I tell my students, ‘look here, you’ve got to be really advanced musically and then you start studying Monk. Monk is like a graduating class study! He wrote the most beautiful ballads. Plus, he was hip enough to write songs on standards. That’s an art. He wrote songs on standards, he played standards and he shows that the ‘Triad’ was very important. He made up a song with two triads.”
Photo credits: Feature © Jean-Pierre Leloir – Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis © Frank Stewart – Russell Hall © Piper Ferguson
Last modified: October 19, 2018