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What follows is a ramble though the underbrush of musicianly detail, stuff I thought about while working on the general audience essay. The rich discography mostly divides neatly into label: Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside, Columbia, and Black Lion. Jazz buffs know this progression intimately and can debate the pros and cons of each era with flair. Village Vanguard a couple of times a week and celebrates her 95th birthday on Sunday.
Monk’s first studio tracks as a leader are short, pithy, and packed with information. I can’t resist stopping the conversation and cueing it up. As a set, these have the weakest performances in the Monk canon. While not all the horn players are that good, everybody gets solo time. Fortunately, usually the piano solos are the longest and they are always the best. Some of the hardest Monk tunes are from this era, and several of them would never return in Monk’s book.
One of Monk’s greatest collaborators was Milt Jackson, and their work together on these Blue Notes is in a category of one. Monk shows off a lot of chops. Not quite LPs yet, the few Prestige tracks produced by Bob Weinstock were 78s or collected on 10-inch before varied repackaging. The issues remain a bit confusing.
Percy Heath and Blakey from 1954. I wish I could play the blues like you. Monk ignores the mistake, keeps counting accurately, and wrong-foots the rhythm section on the head out. A small detail that says something about something but I have no idea what. Among other details, he bangs a top cymbal exactly once.
Gary Mapp is on no other recordings. Apparently he was a policeman first and bassist second, and occasionally you can tell from his exceptionally wrong notes. But, warts and all, the final product is simply transcendent. On the Prestige band tracks Monk is now working with much better soloists. Monk’s solo being pure gold as well. Not content with one time through the monochrome, Stanley would play it over and over. Julius Watkins gets a star turn on french horn, that’s fun too.