1963 was a wonderful year to hear Thelonious Monk live. Having signed with Columbia - his first major label deal - in 1962, his unique music, so long seen as foreboding, eccentric, or just plain wrong, was at last receiving the wide scale distribution it clearly deserved. And Monk seemed, in his own singular fashion, entirely enthusiastic about getting that music out there, touring as he never had before, and with one of the finest working bands he would ever lead.
In the gruff-toned, tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, a masterful phraser who worked with the pianist-composer more than anyone, he had a featured player who better than anyone knew the off-ramps and back stories of Monkdom. Butch Warren was a bassist whose unerring, springy beat was ideal, particularly in tandem with the vastly underrated Frankie Dunlop's jauntily dancing drums.
This 11-tune set spotlights eight "greatest hits" written or co-written by Monk (his theme "Epistrophy," is played twice - once as a "chaser," the other at full-length), plus the standards "Just A Gigalo," as always a solo piano item at once haunting and humorous, and the Tommy Dorsey signature "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," a Monk favorite. Once upon a time the harmonic movements of "Pannonica," "Jackie-ing" and "Bemsha Swing" were considered well beyond the comprehension of most jazz fans. Yet here is the "High Priest" and his indispensable acolytes, half a world away from their New York sanctum sanctorum, swinging to make the sun rise.
Thelonious Monk, piano
Charlie Rouse, tenor saxophone
Butch Warren, bass
Frankie Dunlop, drums