Thelonious Monk - Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival

Thelonious Monk
Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival

(Monterey Jazz Festival/Concord)

#9 Boxed Set/Live Album/Music DVD for 2007

First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2007, Volume 14, #11

Written by Douglas Heselgrave

Sun November 11, 2007, 08:40 AM CST


Thelonious Monk created a musical universe that was all his own. As playful as a Dr. Seuss ballet, the language of melody and rhythm Monk employed was audacious and challenging, and for many, it remains an acquired taste. Largely self-taught, Monk obviously didn’t feel constrained by convention. Using phrases, chords, and key combinations that traditional logic would deem untuneful or just plain wrong, Monk had a perverse and childish delight in exploring. Like Schroeder on acid or the Cat in the Hat wailing on a junkyard piano, the six songs on Live at 1964 the Monterey Jazz Festival illuminate a cartoon cosmos of sound that is at once gloriously naive and intellectually daring.

When he made his appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1964, Monk was at the top of his game. After playing for years as a sideman and collaborating with artists as celebrated as Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, and Art Blakey, Monk experienced little success or critical recognition until he began to record for the Riverside label. Riverside believed in Monk’s percussive, offhand approach to the piano but knew that even the most receptive persons might require a little assistance in order to appreciate what he was doing. They wisely convinced him to record two albums of standards that at least gave jazz fans a point of reference from which to approach Monk’s strange perambulations. His bizarre readings of works in the standard canon revealed a method to his approach that often made use of silences where a note was expected. Conversely, he routinely imposed notes in the places where pauses usually were found. By doing this, he completely inverted the original melody, and in the process, he revealed something about its subtext that previously had eluded the ear.

When he took the stage in Monterey in the summer of 1964, Monk had just signed to Columbia Records, and he was enjoying a level of exposure to which he previously had not been privy. Several of his own compositions — such as ’Round Midnight and Ruby My Dear — had become classics that increasingly were recorded by peers as renowned as Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan. The same year, Monk even made the cover of Time as one of the new faces of jazz. Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival is the third live set from Monk to be issued this year — Live at the It Club and Live at the Jazz Workshop are both outstanding examples of his mid-’60s output — and it is easy to understand why this period of his career has such great appeal to his fans. Working in Monterey with a flawless ensemble that seemed to understand and anticipate his every move, Monk took the audience on a guided tour of his own inner Heaven and Hell. Beginning with a 10-minute exploration of Blue Monk, a rendition that is among the best recordings available of this signature tune, he moved into definitive performances of Rhythm-A-Ning and Straight, No Chaser, both of which remain obtuse and challenging decades after their original conception.

With an almost childlike sense of defiance, Monk created new paradigms of timing and sound that reached their fullest expression during the concert featured on Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival. Like Henri Rousseau, the great 19th century French painter, the naive gloss of Monk’s art often hid its intellectual rigor, several layers below the surface. Because of this, it may take awhile for all of the songs to sink in. Given time and patience, however, Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival is a gold mine, a kind of modernist Rosetta Stone that will pay continuous dividends to anyone who is brave enough to let go and dive in. Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival is a gorgeous record; it is a rich, African-American tapestry that will taunt, tempt, and titillate listeners for years to come. starstarstarstar ˝


Other Monterey Jazz Festival CDs

Louis Armstrong - Live at the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival

Art Blakey and the Giants of Jazz - Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival

Miles Davis - Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival

Tito Puente - Live at the 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival

Jimmy Witherspoon / Robben Ford - Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival


Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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