There was a theory behind “Thelonious Monk Plays
Duke Ellington,” Monk’s first recording for Riverside Records,
as well as its first 12-inch Jazz LP issue. The idea was that
by including Jazz tunes that the “average ear” could relate to,
the pianist would be more accepted by listeners. At this
time in 1955, Monk was considered to be too “far out”
for many LP buyers, and this disc preceded his subsequent
rise in popularity and fame.
Of course, Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) would ultimately
be known as a preeminent Jazz composer like Duke Ellington,
and it was interesting to hear what he could do with another
man’s music. Assisting him in these tributary explorations were
bassist Oscar Pettiford (1922-1960) and Bebop drummer,
Kenny Clarke (1914-1985). As one of the founders of Bebop,
Clarke played with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker at
Minton’s in the early 1940’s.
The eight songs on this record include Monk’s takes on
Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” “Mood Indigo,” and
“Caravan.” Each tune was given the Monk treatment;
i.e., a firm, swinging beat with sardonic humor and quirky,
angular harmonic stylings. The interpretations herein were very
tasteful renditions of Ellington’s songs, filtered through Monk’s
artistic sensibilities. As such, he’s featured in a different vein,
showcasing his skills as a Jazz improviser in contrast with
his performances of his own compositions.
This 37-minute record was engineered by Rudy Van Gelder,
with digital remastering by Joe Tarantino. It’s worth checking
out to hear a different side of Thelonious Monk.