Saturdays 9 p.m. - 12 a.m.
Hosted by Fritz Byers, "Jazz Spectrum 91" is designed as an anthology, a loose and flowing tour through the history of the music, showcasing the wondrous diversity of jazz and the virtuosity of the musicians who play it.
The full interview between Fritz and Robin Kelley is now streaming at the bottom of this posting. Click 'Listen' below.
Kahil El Zabar Ritual Trio, Big M: A Tribute to Malachi Favors, “Big M”
James Hall, Lattice, Black Narcissus”
Dinah Washington, Complete, “Stormy Weather”
Warne Marsh & Lee Konitz, Two Not One, ‘Blues By Lester”
Peter Erskine, Tim Hagabs & The Norbotten Big Band, Worth the Wait, “You Should See My Office”
Kahil El Zabar, Bright Moments, Return of the Lost Tribe, “Ornette”
Kahil El Zabar Ritual Trio with Archie Shepp, Conversations, “Kari”
Art Farmer & Gigi Gryce, When Farmer Met Gryce, “Social Call”
Nat Shilkret & The Victor Orchestra, “Softly, as In a Morning Sunrise”
Helen Merrill, Compact Jazz, “Softly, as In a Morning Sunrise”
John Coltrane, ’61 Village Vanguard, “Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise”
Abbey Lincoln, Abbey Is Blue, “Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise”
Bobby Darin, Venice Blue, “Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise”
Ron Carter, Eric Dolphy, and Mal Waldron, Where?, “Softly, as In a Morning Sunrise”
Dianne Reeves, I Remember, “Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise”
Emily Remler, East to Wes, “Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise”
Kahil El Zabar Quartet, What It Is, “Central Park West”
Michael Brecker, Tales from the Hudson, “Willie T”
Lesle Pintchik, You Eat My Food, You Drink My Wine, You Steal My Girl, “Title Track,” Hopperesque”
Betty Carter, Inside Betty Carter, “Beware My Heart”
Joe Henderson, Big Band, “Without a Song”
Billie Poole, Sermonette, “Time After Time”
John McNeil, East Coast Cool, “Internal Hurdles”
Warren Vache & Bill Charlap, 2gether, “What’ll I Do”
Chris Potter, The Sirens, “Dawn with Her Rosy Fingers”
Bill McHenry, Roses, “The New One”
Jermoe Richardson, Roamin’ with Richardson, “Poinciana”
Kenny Wheeler, Angel Song, “Angel Song”
Past Playlists Listen
By Kim Kleinman, Contributing Writer
I join the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Thelonious Monk’s birthday in honor of over 40 years of wonder and discovery this still exotic music has provided me. It is tempting to think this fresh and unique is, despite being over 70 years old in some cases, is outside of history. We have heard nothing like it before or since and it can seem that though we play the compositions there is some unattainable Monk-ness still out there. Nonetheless there is something downright fun and playful in the tunes and the playing; it is gregarious and accessible. We can listen regularly, always finding some new delight in the music.
Jazz Spectrum has brought biographer Robin Kelly into our discussion and we are each reading or rereading his monumental biographical study of our hero. We are celebrating students--Steve Lacy, Fred Hersch--who have found the DNA, Hersch’s term, in these compositions. But, I want to think--along with Kelly--about where Monk came from and discover the elements of his genius.
He was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, a century ago. Like so many jazz musicians, he first played in church. Note the snippet of “Abide with Me,” a hymn by William Henry Monk (no relation) recorded with Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane on “Monk’s Mood” explicitly evokes that part of the heritage. Monk himself doesn’t play on the cut, just the horns fairly straight but still hints in the voicing a chord or two that reminds us that the leader did the arrangement. One can only guess what young Thelonious did with the hymns and how that tradition shaped his sense of rhythm, harmony, and space. But it is clearly part of who he was.
Another current is the blues. Let’s remember that Piedmont blues has its own flavor distinct from the blues that came up the Mississippi from New Orleans and the Delta to St. Louis and Chicago. Or what Count Basie brought out of the Southwest into Kansas City. Blind Blake among others brought a ragtime feel to the music on guitar. Monk played the blues, but, as with everything else, he did it in his own way. I have to think North Carolina influenced him here too.
Then there’s the piano. Washington, DC, was the first almost Northern city up the road from Carolina and that’s where Edward Kennedy Ellington put together his first band. Duke played his share of piano after all and built a style out of the stride piano tradition. He found his lyricism in his arranging and composing, but his piano had a force. Isn’t that part of Monk’s playing too, rhythmic drive with strong, choppy chords?
With that in mind, I have returned to the 1955 trio album “Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington” to explore the pianistic conversation across time between our two greatest composers.
I posit that these are among the elements he brought to New York as a young man and they were the basis of his becoming the house pianist at Minton’s. This is what he contributed to the formation of bebop there at ground zero with Charlie Christian, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke, and Charlie Parker. They invented a rhythmic and, even more, a harmonic language that led to countless inventions over the chords to show tunes (especially “I Got Rhythm”) and blues. Those recordings too bear study to watch both bebop and Monk himself come into being.
Though not formative in the same way, I have learned much from “Chordially” from the later Black Lion “London Collection, Vol. 3.” There Monk explores chord voicings and modulations for 10 minutes. It is a window on his harmonic language every bit as important as J.S. Bach’s Piano Inventions which defined harmony for a different era. Similarly, see also “Round Midnight in Progress” on the reissue of “Thelonious Himself” where the composer explores perhaps his most enduring tune for 22 minutes re- and de- constructing it again and again.
So, the church, blues, and Ellington. Those are the foundation of Monk as well as so much of this music including the bebop he helped forge. Charles Mingus built his own formidable body of work out of those same elements, so his “MDM (Monk, Duke, and Me)” from his 1960 album “Mingus” is a proper celebration as Monk’s “Straight No Chaser” meets Ellington’s “Main Stem” meets Mingus’s own “Fifty-First Street Blues” pulled together by Mingus’s formidable skills as a composer, arranger, and bandleader.
Monk’s magic remains even as I have convinced myself that perhaps he didn’t just emerge full blown from the head of Zeus.
But there remains some merit in that hypothesis as well.