Forget Elvis, MONK is everywhere: Eric Reed; Organ Monk; Melodious Thunk; Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition; Laurent De Wilde’s “Monk”

Planet Jazz: Notes From All Over

Thelonious Sphere Monk, who would have turned 95 on Oct. 10, isn’t quite everywhere, exactly.

But the man, his playing and his compositions continue to loom large as an influence on and living presence in the work of jazz musicians all over the world.

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Monk is celebrated on at least two recent discs, both of which offer fresh approaches to familiar gems.

“The Baddest Monk” (Savant Records) has pianist Eric Reed joined by saxophonist Seamus Blake, trumpeter Etienne Charles, bassist Matt Clohesy and (on ” ‘Round Midnight”) guest singer Jose James for seven Monk tunes and two originals in that vein — the solo-piano title track, and the New Orleans-grooving “Monk Beurre Rouge.” Light funk rhythms drive opener “Rhythm-A-Ning”; creative use of space, harmony figures and bolero/tango flavors characterize “Monk’s Mood,” one of two trio pieces, along with “Green Chimneys,” done without horns; and “Bright Mississippi” is refried in 7/4.

“We had our way with Monk,” Reed writes in the liner notes. “To some degree, this is almost an un-Monk endeavor, but that was his whole point: individualism no matter what the cost.” (Check out Reed live at Smoke Jazz and Supper Club, courtesy of The Pace Report)

Individualism is also the modus operandi of  Greg Lewis‘s “Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black” (Greg Lewis), a sort-of sequel to the B3 specialist’s “Organ Monk,” released in 2010. For the latter CD, Lewis was joined by guitarist Ron Jackson and drummer Cindy Blackman; this time, the organist takes on Monk favorites and originals with the help of Jackson, drummer Nasheet Waits (replacing Blackman) and tenor saxophonist Reginald R. Woods.

The broader sonic canvas is refreshing, and so are several tracks — “Little Rootie Tootie,” with its call-and-response structure; “Skippy,” equipped with a rising-and-falling intro; a hard-grooving “Bright Mississippi”; and a version of “Crepuscule with Nellie” amplifying its inner quirkiness.  A third volume is in order, I say. (One quibble: Howard Mandel’s thoughtful liner notes are in tiny, tiny font, not at all easily readable for over-40 eyes).

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The Monk compilations continue rolling out. So far this year: The six-disc “The Thelonious Monk Quartet: The Complete Columbia Studio Albums Collection” (Columbia/Legacy); “The Very Best of Thelonious Monk” (Concord Jazz/Riverside); “Pride” (jazz2jazz); and “Beyond Patina Jazz Masters: Thelonious Monk” (Beyond Patina

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More Monk doings:

+ Melodious Thunk, with singer Teri Roiger, bassist John Menegon, pianist Francesca Tanksley, drummer Tani Tabbal, and saxophonist Dan Faulk, celebrated Monk’s music with a show held in Woodstock, NY on his birthday; he was born in 1917 in Rocky Mount, N.C.

+ New Orleans drummer Jamison Ross, 24, a native of Jacksonville, FL, won the 25th annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, Sept. 23 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Yusuke Nakamura, of Japan, was the winner of the affiliated Composers Competition. The long-running Jazz Competition (thoughtful coverage by Nate Chinen of the New York Times) has become a springboard to greater success for past winners, including bassist Ben Williams (2009), trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire (2007), singers Gretchen Parlato (2004) and Teri Thornton (1998), saxophonist Seamus Blake (2002), percussionist Pedro Martinez, and pianists Eric Lewis (1999) and Jacky Terrasson (1993), among others. Recently, on NPR’s “A Blog Supreme,” several winners and finalists weighed in on the advantages and disadvantages of musical competition. The discussion was something of a follow-up to one pianist Ethan Iverson (The Bad Plus) posted on his blog, Do the Math.  Iverson jumped into the fray again with another post several days later, and the blogosphere lit up with some back and forth, including a thoughtful dialogue between Iverson and Lewis.

+ The competition’s sponsor, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, continues an ambitious program of education and performances via offices in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and New Orleans. The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance opened at the UCLA campus this past summer, and the first class of graduate students started in the fall.

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And finally …

Recently re-reading Laurent De Wilde‘s brief but substantial bio, Monk (Marlowe & Company), originally published in 1996, I came across a particularly elegant and insightful description of how bass and drums work together to create a foundation for a jazz group, particularly applicable to a composer whose melodies and improvising are so heavily rhythmic.

Here it is:

“The bass sketches out time with a primordial pulsation, and the drums draw it in India ink. The crystalline precision of the ride cymbal. The shrewd and solid comments of the snare and bass drums. Depth, contour, innuendo, doors that open and close as the drumskin is struck. And if the drummer decides to play “Summertime” as a tango, you can always curse him out afterward, but there in concert, you just have to go along with him. It’s the opposite of the lemming phenomenon — when you don’t follow the drummer, that’s when you’re in trouble. The bass and the drums are the instruments which keep us in contact with the ancient beauty of rhythm. The gut string you pluck, and the stretched skin you strike  — what could be more carnal, more animal, than that?” 

Click here for more info on Monk.

Straight Ahead: 16th Annual JJA Awards; UF jazz prof/trumpeter Gary Langford honored; Herb Snitzer a photography nominee

Jazz musicians and the music’s movers and shakers will be honored in 40 categories at the 16th annual Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) Jazz Awards, slated for June 20 at the Blue Note in NYC.

Pianists Horace Silver (left) and Muhal Richard Abrams, bassist Ron Carter and saxophonist Wayne Shorter are up for Lifetime Achievement in Jazz awards.

Saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, Phil Woods and Joe Lovano, pianist Keith Jarrett, guitarists John Scofield, Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell,  drummer Paul Motian, vibraphonist Gary Burton, and singers Kurt Elling, Freddy Cole, Tierney Sutton and Karrin Allyson are among the other veteran musicians nominated for awards, as well as rising-star talents including bassist Esperanza Spalding,  trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianists Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn, tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen, guitarist Mary Halvorson, vibist Warren Wolf and drummer Eric Harland.

(A Tampa Bay area note: The gifted St. Petersburg-based photographer Herb Snitzer, whose work was featured at the Tampa Museum of Art in recent months, is up for the Lona Foote-Bob Parent Award for Photography)

Organ Monk, a quartet led by Greg Lewis, will play the event, along with two duos: singer Paulette McWilliams and pianist Nat Adderley, Jr., and guitarist Gabriel Marin and bassist John Ferrara.

The ceremonies will also honor esteemed jazz writer Albert Murray with the “Music and Words” award, co-sponsored by the JJA and the Jazz Foundation of America.

A number of Jazz Heroes–  “activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz” — will be honored at a series of affiliated JJA Jazz Awards satellite parties in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Schenectady, and Tucson, as well as locations in Ca nada and New Zealand.

Two of those parties will be held in Florida — June 20 at B-Sharp’s Jazz Club, and June 21 at Leonardo’s 706 in Gainesville. I’m happy to say that the jazz hero being honored in Gainesville is my former jazz band director at the University of Florida, the gifted trumpeter and very influential educator Gary Langford. The Marty Liquori Jazztet will play that event.

Here’s the official citation for the award, as written by JJA member Dustin Garlitz:

“R. Gary Langford is Professor of Music Emeritus at the University of Florida in Gainesville, who as UF’s Director of Jazz Studies from 1981-2006 regularly taught a popular jazz history course that introduced thousands of undergraduates to the music. A trumpeter who, during his graduate studies at North Texas State University was a soloist with the One O’Clock (Jazz) Lab Band, he’s also an accomplished arranger and composer.

Gary held offices in the International Association of Jazz Educators, Florida Unit (President from 1984-1986), and was honored by IAJE in 1982-1983 as its Outstanding Jazz Educator.  He has been the recipient of many other honors: Teacher of the Year from UF’s College of Fine Arts, a TIP award for excellence in teaching, twice a finalist for the prestigious UF Alumni Association Distinguished Professor Award, the Foundation For The Promotion of Music’s 1997 Musician of the Year and the 1998 College Music Educator of the Year for the state of Florida (conferred by the Florida Music Educators Association).  In 1999 he was awarded the prestigious “Distinguished Service to Music Medal” by Kappa Kappa Psi, the national band fraternity and he was named most co-UF Teacher of the Year for 2006-2007.

He has directed numerous county, district and all-state bands, including the Alachua County Youth Orchestra; he’s been music director and conductor for more than 25 years.  He’s a Gainesville Jazz Hero deserving wider recognition, and thanks to the JJA is getting some.”

More info on the Gainesville event is here.

The NYC Jazz Awards gala is a fundraiser for the 24-year-old JJA, which numbers jazz writers, broadcasters, photographers, new media producers and other supporters of jazz journalism among its membership (I’m a longstanding voting member).

For more info on the JJA, visit the organization’s site – Jazz House. Complete details on the JJA Jazz Awards 2012 is available here.