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Interesting discussion. I get the feeling that Charlie Rouse was often used as a sort of straight man to support Monk's "comping" or whatever you want to call it. Rouse would be playing the piece in a correct and rather predictable manner, while Monk would insert accents that would make it all sound so unpredictable and dangerous. I find that combination quite satisfying.

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There's a core architecture to his work that can bend all kinds of ways, but if anybody breaks, it will be the bender. You can not break Monk, but Monk for damn sure can break you.

Basically this. In a pragmatic sense, one of the key issues with performing Monk as Contemporary Jazz Repertoire is that it often sits outside of the parameters of Contemporary Jazz Performance. It's not simply that Monk tunes are challenging vehicles for improvisation--they are, but they're also largely incompatible with a lot of the improvisational habits that have emerged in jazz in Marsalis's wake--i.e., vertiginous, hypertechnical blowing, extreme rhythmic interplay, etc.

The number of players on record that could slouch into a Monk tune, engage with non/later than Monk (I hesitate to say "post") aesthetics, and come out creatively unscathed is pretty small--they've been named in this thread, and that's either because of years of study with the music (Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd) and/or a fundamental compatibility in personal approach (Don Cherry, Misha Mengelberg, Motian). It's tough to step into this music with your battery of Coltrane changes, tritone subsitutions, metric superimpositions, and so on without encountering and confronting a language barrier--as it should be with any deeply personal music.

(As an aside, I've had debates about whether or not Ornette's music can be appropriately played in a non-Ornette setting, and you run into the same basic considerations. On the one hand (and these were points made by a one-time intimate of Ornette's), that music is built to be an open, endlessly compatible framework for combining and juxtaposing seemingly contrary operating procedures--and, thereby, finding commonality between those procedures. On the other hand, you're dealing with the nuts and bolts of a harmonic and melodic language that is deeply singular and regarding which a handful of performance approaches--e.g., Haden on bass, Blackwell as timekeeper/participant, etc.--have been canonized as "more successful than others." Can you play this music wrong, better, or badly? If so, you rub up against the fact a supposedly open system does, like Monk's, require some personal give.)

As for the comping debate--has there been a consensus on what comping is sense the advent of Herbie Hancock? Yes, it's a concept fundamentally and etymologically tied to accompaniment, but the piano player has been an interactive and often equal voice behind the soloist since (at least) the 2nd Miles Quintet. Monk is neither playing in this much later Hancockian mode nor in the strictly supportive sense, but I'd imagine that the definition is wide enough to encompass the orchestrational colorist (of which Monk isn't necessarily the only important voice in jazz).

One more thing--there are a lot of cats who don't like Ethan Iverson's playing or writing, and he's come on this board to debate points I've made, and far be it from anyone--especially at this epoch in music--to say something like "ignore X at your own peril." That being said, I think that there's something that he's tapped into that is iconic to the present milieu--whatever your thoughts on that may be--and he is, for that reason, one of this era's most relevant voices.

People still give The Bad Plus a lot of shit for their first couple of albums, but we're dealing with concepts of repertoire, study, and conceptual broadness that have been influencing the current crop of musicians for well over a decade now. There isn't much philosphical territory here that wasn't already being dealt with by the AACM, BAG, ICP, and so on years and years ago, but what the Bad Plus have done (through iconology, status, and yes, touchy issues like demographics) is redirect the energies of the Whiplash infected jazz scholar into earnest study of the broader jazz and creative music canon, and that definitely counts for something.

Musically, they get a little arid and overwrought at times, and this is what makes it tougher to handle than, say, a Mengelberg piano trio or especially a Muhal Richard Abrams combo, but there's an earnestness under that technical precision that is worthy in the same way it's worthy to get inside of Brubeck or Jarrett.

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(As an aside, I've had debates about whether or not Ornette's music can be appropriately played in a non-Ornette setting, and you run into the same basic considerations. On the one hand (and these were points made by a one-time intimate of Ornette's), that music is built to be an open, endlessly compatible framework for combining and juxtaposing seemingly contrary operating procedures--and, thereby, finding commonality between those procedures. On the other hand, you're dealing with the nuts and bolts of a harmonic and melodic language that is deeply singular and regarding which a handful of performance approaches--e.g., Haden on bass, Blackwell as timekeeper/participant, etc.--have been canonized as "more successful than others." Can you play this music wrong, better, or badly? If so, you rub up against the fact a supposedly open system does, like Monk's, require some personal give.)

Whoever it is firing that cannon needs to get their own ass blown out of here...post THAT paradigm, there is the Dancing In Your Head paradigm, which works pretty damn well, then the Tone Dialing paradigm, which is still getting caught up to (sloooowly), and now, the New Vocabulary paradigm, which continues to sound to me like it's the/a real deal.

These musics all have the same physics. What they don't all have is the same bodies (literally and metaphorically). But the flow of the music, the rhythmic impetus, the inflectional dialect, the shape(s) of the space(s) the sound(s) occupy once released, just the way the music is, this does not change, even when everything else does.

This is what I was talking about in that other thread - true understanding, popular or otherwise, is a joke more often than not because people look to define everything in terms of what they already know and like rather than what they can learn, whether you "like" something or not is a personal decision, but dammit, learn what it is before you make that decision, or if your decision is to be lazy or otherwise not learn ("not enough time for that" is a valid out, imo, and that's just one), own the fact that your opinion is not necessarily an informed one. Just be honest about it, ok?. I used to tell people please don't do that, not the way to a happy ending, but I guess I was wrong, plenty happy, and most certainly plenty endings. But SO much wrong....

This Haden/Higgins-Blackwell thing, how much of that is because, hey, it sounds like 4/4, there's a walking base and a ride cymbal, and, uh, to be honest, I don't now a C from a D, so as I understand taht technical stuff, that's just for musicians, and all that kind of mess. FAMILIARITY defining "successful", keep "the continuum" within boundaries which I can remain comfortably inside. I'll call bullshit on that, and suggest that you do as well! How the fuck do "open" and "successful" and "performance approach" exist in the same sentence to get to the same end without SOMEBODY telling a lie, or at least fudging just a little bit?

All those original Ornette band are dead, except for Ornette, and he's pretty damn old right now. People need to look past what's there to live in a body and what's there to be lived in the renewable world. It sure ain't about one man in his body, that's for sure. Don't ever think that it is. Otherwise you're just fishing in a stock pond.

"Popular understanding"? We're not too far removed from pulling for a team because we like their uniforms when it comes to that.

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OK, to at least a certain degree, this is getting to the meat of the matter w/regard to tension between originality and repertory performance.

Dumb but real question: what is it that dictates a successful performance v. an unsuccessful performance? If we're dealing with a set of generic chord changes with infinitely variable pieces--e.g., 12 bar blues or rhythm changes--then maybe can say that we're dealing with a formal cipher--the "reality" of it resides within what we actually do within that formal context (e.g., the Flintstones theme is not the same thing as Oleo). If we're talking about something more idiosyncratic, like a really bizarre set of Monk changes that are used as vehicle for improvisation, then it's harder to say what constitutes a "legit" performance--because this isn't Brilliant Corners, but it also totally is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHDnF3Lf7xM

A lot of the key structural markers are present, it's in the proper key, the basic shape of the melody is there, and so on--but for Monk, who was not down with the Miles "Well You Needn't" changes and was known to criticize alternates to his harmonies, this is probably a "wrong" performance--way more wrong than a jazz ensemble playing a relatively rote/faithful iteration of Monk's music. We're not even talking if it's "good" or not--we're talking about it being successful/"real."

I totally agree with you in that no one really has the privilege of saying what constitutes "understanding" of that tune and what does not--we can talk about what a Monk rendition of that tune would be, but we are in the end just dealing with notes and tones. People flipped out about that Mostly Other People Do the Killing Blue album a few months back but, ultimately, as a grotesque sort of artifact, it has a rationale and as much a right to exist as anything else. The relative value of said project gets into some Jasper Johns/"According to What" standards-type territory.

What spurred the discussion of the Ornette thing was my initial distaste for what Christian McBride played under Ornette on that Sonny Rollins Road Show performance of "Sonnymoon for Two"--I've since walked back on this, because I can't really hear that much of it on the actual recording, but back when we only had youtube clips of the event, I thought he was going into some very overt Haden-isms (that slushy octave/double stop thing that he did from the 70's on) and found this kind of distasteful. If we're dealing with music that's supposed to be about free expression, why are you just wearing the skin of the guy who went out on a limb to try something new?

I got sort of excoriated by a friend of mine, because the argument was that the harmolodic ethos should allow you to do whatever you feel and, incidentally, McBride was just feeling the Haden thing. This struck me as a little circular, because wouldn't you want to try to sound as original as possible? I honestly don't know if there's a clear answer to this question, and I go back and forth on it now and again--and maybe, and I guess this is the point, there is absolutely no way of knowing if there are answers to any of these questions, and it's ultimately best to just play whatever you're going to play and sort it out afterward.

Or, to paraphrase Monk in what is probably a totally meaningless way, Who Knows?

Edited by ep1str0phy
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afaic "successful" ha no meaning 0utside of "expectation", and we all have those. It's just a question of whose get prioritized with who and when (and all the other "w"s, and that is never going to be totally clear as to right vs wrong, success vs failure.

So I'm kinda like, fuck it, just do it, and stay ready. Fail to do any of that, and it's on you. Past that, hey, you've done all you can do, what happens happens, then it starts over again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

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Or maybe I'm confusing "successful" with "pleasing" or "satisfying"...or maybe in the end none of that is really relevant, all of it coming after the (f)act, which itself - the (f)act - is what ultimately counts.

I mean, hopefully, we all get better at all of it, creating, delivering, and receiving, as we go, it's a fool that doesn't look for that, but how that's supposed to work, hell, wars have been fought over that and we still haven't gotten anything like a final answer, so...as much as we all love "objectivity", at some point you just have to make a decision, process all the input, and then just fucking do it, whatever it is.

Worry Later, as the man said.

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Back to Monk's comping, maybe the evidence won't bear this out, but my "first reaction" when thinking about it is that he tended to have a distinctly different way of comping when the object was to play a tune than he did when the object was to play one of his compositions. When doing the former, he pretty much fed the changes to the soloist, and in a remarkably consistent way, no - or very few - bottoms pulled out from you, no falling down the elevator shaft, just changes, fed to you for you to do your thing to. Example (and a favorite):

I can see why Miles felt like that was "no support", Miles (and a lot of other people) like a comp that kicked things along, a very true continuation of the big band thing, we got you, just ride us, we're all in this together. Monk about all that is more like Sonny Murray was about time, what do you need me to play it for you, don't you already know where it is?, just changes to play over, you know what you're going to do, I know what you're going to do, you're going to play the tune, make the changes, here they are, we got a bass player for time and a drummer for kick, you got the show, I got the changes, let's go. Now when his solo comes, whoa, then he goes to his zone, but as soon as its over, it's back to straight changes. I think it's beautiful, pure music, objective as hell, "classical" even, in the truer sense.

Compare that notion of function to what he does on his own compositions:

Totally different imperative here, it's not about feeding the changes (or perhaps more to the point, laying them down), it's about shaping the performance, being very proactive about direction, it's not just a blues, it's his composition, and by god, that means something different than blowing on a tune. Different task, if you will.

It may or may not be "obvious", but the "Mysterioso" on Rollins' Vol. 2 side, the one where Monk trades out with Horace Silver so Silver can comp for J.J./Jay Jay is about as blunt a hit upside the head as there can be about how unique Monk's creation of a place of his own as there is, Horace references the notes of the melody in his comp., but like it's a basic, intuitive lick, it could be one of many, and that's cool, that drives home one point, but geez, Monk's comp behind Sonny is NOT about it possibly being one of (m)any blues, it's about it being one blues, and only one, "Mysterioso", and let's not forget it, ok? It's amazing how differently two players can comp on the same tune, even use some of the same voicings and spacings, yet have a completely different focus and direction, amazing.

And yet, would you not think that Monk can have such a fundamental gravitational pull on his own music precisely because he can be so objective about other people's music? Or the other way around? Either way, bottom line, I think, Monk knew music, period. It's not the long-dispelled notion that he was just banging or sacrificing "technique" for "effect" (if he was "sacrificing" anything, it was bullshit that he was shedding, hardly a sacrifice, except in a world predicated n the cultivation & feeding of an appetite for bullshit) or anything touchy-feely like that (Monk from another world - not. this world motherfuckers, fully and completely. THIS WORLD!), it's that this guy knew music, knew what would happen if you do this, what would happen if you do this, and if you want this, it's as much about not doing this as it is doing this, he knew everything that made music, not "style" but music. Knew the options and plaed them accordingly. Cause and effect driven by purpose, driven by the certainty of clarity that comes from knowing. Or so it seems to me. Hell, I don't know, not like that. But in my dreams and in my waking moments, I can't imagine anybody knowing truer. Differently and equally true, sure, but not truer.

Monk's stuff is like Bach's - you can spend a lifetime looking for loopholes, some kind of way to convert it to "your terms", but sooner or later it is revealed that a loophole is where your head goes when it's placed in a noose.

That is where the bar is set, Dear Friends, getting to that level of incontrovertibly. "Style" has nothing to do with it. "Style" is just...

Seduction-of-the-Innocent.jpg

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I will forever associate Monk with architecture and modernism.

When I hear Monk compositions, I start to see (or hear?) geometric shapes. Weird. I get what you're saying about architecture. Monk seems incredibly mathematical to me, even if he never tried to (or cared to).

Modernism, on the other hand — I never feel comfortable talking about what's modern, though I can see Monk enjoying a martini in one of these:

Modern-Chair-Designs-353.jpg

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It may or may not be "obvious", but the "Mysterioso" on Rollins' Vol. 2 side, the one where Monk trades out with Horace Silver so Silver can comp for J.J./Jay Jay is about as blunt a hit upside the head as there can be about how unique Monk's creation of a place of his own as there is, Horace references the notes of the melody in his comp., but like it's a basic, intuitive lick, it could be one of many, and that's cool, that drives home one point, but geez, Monk's comp behind Sonny is NOT about it possibly being one of (m)any blues, it's about it being one blues, and only one, "Mysterioso", and let's not forget it, ok? It's amazing how differently two players can comp on the same tune, even use some of the same voicings and spacings, yet have a completely different focus and direction, amazing.

I think this is what made Sonny and Thelonious such a good pairing. A lot more than most bebop musicians of that period, they were interested in melodic/thematic improvisation, not just threading changes.

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Related to the title of this forum topic by way of Brandford and Rouse, I have always liked this song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=075RQjUEpqY

'Roused About" from The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born. The album has a duet with Wynton, too, that is quite good.

The Marsalis plays Monk CD never did it for me. When it comes to Wynton Marsalis, I have liked J Mood, Black Codes, Marciac Suite, the VV box, and Citi Movement. I probably play Black Codes and Marciac Suite with more frequency than anything else. My J Mood is on LP, and I have not played it in years.

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  • 1 month later...

Re Monk's comping: He did not comp. Like Ellington and Basie, he was an orchestra pianist, he believed his accompaniment duty was to provide color and / or rhythmic kick. According to Frankie Dunlap, I believe it was, Ellington was Monk's favorite pianist.

Drummer Donald "Duck" Bailey had another take on the question of Monk's favorite pianist. In a 2008 interview in San Francisco with the writer Don Alberts that appears in Alberts' book "A Diary of the Underdogs: Jazz in the 1960's in San Francisco," Bailey said, "And who was Monk's idol? Hasaan Ibn Ali. Nobody knows that!" (page 120--interview begins on page 118)

A Google search for "And who was Monk's idol?" will find the passage at books.google.com. From the context, it appears that Donald Bailey was talking about a time around 1950 when Bud Powell was living in Willow Grove, outside of Philadelphia, and was in the process of composing "Un Poco Loco." Monk would have been about 33, Hasaan about 19. Tantalizing.

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