This 1969 concert by the Thelonious Monk Quartet was produced by a high school student and recorded by his school's janitor. Its publicity posters were printed up by the Palo Alto High School Graphic Arts Department. The janitor, we are told, received permission (but from whom?) to tape the concert as a reward for his having tuned the piano. Before the concert, only a few tickets were sold, but then a crowd gathered outside the school. People wanted to see Monk and the two opening acts, but didn't necessarily believe that the great pianist/composer would show up. After all he was appearing that night in a club in San Francisco.
Remarkably he did appear, and in a good mood, with his oft-recorded quartet of tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist Larry Gales, and drummer Ben Riley. Equally remarkably the recorded sound, in stereo, is excellent. Its main flaw is the close recording of the drum set, but even that is interesting. That janitor, whose very existence I somehow doubt, had skills. In Palo Alto, Monk played his standard set: four of his most famous originals, the ballad "Don't Blame Me" and, as an encore, a mini-version on solo piano of "I Love You Sweetheart of My Dreams," an obscure song that was introduced into the repertoire by Rudy Vallee and promptly forgotten by everyone but Monk, who used it repeatedly as a short finishing touch to his concerts. (There are a pair of mini versions on his Paris 1969 concert recordings.) At the end, Monk tells the crowd he'd like to play more for them but: "We have to hurry back and get to work, you dig?"
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"The roughest thing is my mom," composer and bandleader Maria Schneider says over the phone on a recent summer morning, answering the first question of almost every conversation in the COVID-19 era: How are you holding up? The New York-based composer/conductor has been in grateful, high gear, safe and healthy at her country home while preparing the release of a new two-record set by the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Data Lords. But Schneider, who grew up in the small farming town of Windom, Minnesota, misses her mother, who's turning 96 in Minneapolis, "in a place where nobody can visit her because they're protecting people.
"And that's good," Schneider goes on. "But I had this dream where I was in a hotel trying to see her and the elevator went to a negative-50th floor and I couldn't get back to her." She laughs brightly, something she does often in conversation. "I woke up and thought, ‘Well, I know what that's about: When am I going to see Mom again?'
Schneider, 59, will not see the road or be in the same room with her orchestra any time soon. But she is pressing forward with Data Lords, her first album since 2015's The Thompson Fields, out via ArtistShare, the fan-funding platform that has issued her work since 2004's Grammy-winning Concert in the Garden. Consisting of 11 pieces over 97 minutes, Data Lords is a boldly conceptual immersion in a critical duality of modern life, now compounded by truly viral calamity: the corporate and political manipulation of our internet addictions (the first disc, subtitled The Digital World) and the endangered wonder and sanctuary around us, made even more remote by lockdown (the second disc, The Natural World).
"I was just writing," Schneider says of the album's thematic genesis. "It's what I always do-write music, then think, ‘It's time to record again.'" But it was "a struggle" to make sense of the growing "hodgepodge" until visual artist Justin Freed, a friend and ArtistShare participant, suggested she make two albums. "I started analyzing the music, analyzing myself: ‘You're thinking about Google a bit too much, girl. And here I can tell you spent some time weeding and watching your bluebirds' nest.' I thought, ‘Wow, this is the struggle, the yin and yang of our life.'" (photo: Briene Lermitte)
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In the fall of 1968, a sixteen-year old high school student named Danny Scher had a dream to invite legendary jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk and his all-star quartet to perform a concert at his local high school in Palo Alto, CA. In a series of twists and turns, against a backdrop of racial tension and political volatility, that concert was recorded by the school's janitor and finally released in 2020.
Verve Presents: Monk Goes To School tells this story in innovative detail, interweaving the voices of Danny Scher, Thelonius Monk's son T.S. Monk, monk biographer Robin D.G. Kelley and engineer/mixer Grandmixer DXT with narrator Anthony Valadez from KCRW.
The podcast is unique in that there is no hosted interview segment – it takes the listener on an immersive journey featuring the voices of the cast, sound design and music clips from the record throughout.
Verve/Impulse! Records and podcast creative studio PopCult are pleased to announce Verve Presents: Monk Goes To School, an innovative podcast that tells the story of Thelonious Monk's storied visit, concert, and subsequent recording at Palo Alto High School in 1968. The Podcast is available on all major platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon, Pandora, and more. Listen to the podcast HERE.
The album Palo Alto was released on September 18
PopCult Founder/Creative Director Dennis Scheyer says, "Once we heard the story of how the record came to be we felt that it deserved more than the usual ‘interview-based' portrayal. It's the kind of show we created our company to produce, and Verve fully supported us."
Recorded entirely "at home" with high-quality microphones across the United States, this podcast deftly weaves through multiple voices, telling this story of Thelonious Monk, the unexpected concert, and of course, uses the music to illustrate this important part of musical history.
EVP of Verve/Impulse! Jamie Krents says, "We're thrilled to collaborate with PopCult on Monk Goes to School. This podcast brilliantly captures the real story of the Palo Alto recording, and puts it in historical context with brilliant narration from all the key players. Impulse! and Verve Records have such a rich history of music that we're very excited to continue to illustrate in partnership with PopCult."
PopCult Partner, Strategy and Marketing Lars Murray says, "We were excited to help Verve establish a leadership position among labels by creating a high-quality narrative podcast that integrates their music seamlessly and tells a great story about a landmark release. Verve demonstrated that a label's access to licensed music is a huge advantage in podcasting."
Palo Alto – Thelonious Monk
Ruby, My Dear
Well, You Needn't
Don't Blame Me
I Love You Sweetheart of All My Dreams
John Finbury started out as a drummer while in high school. Today, he is an established pianist and composer who has offered a variety of music to my listening room. I've heard his original compositions lyrically enriched by Thalma De Freitas, (a Brazilian vocalist and lyricist) on an album titled "Sorte". It was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award. Finbury won another Latin Grammy nomination in 2016 (in the ‘Song of The Year' category) for a piece he penned on his "Imaginario" album. On his "Quatro" album, that I reviewed in 2019, he was celebrating cultural diversity and immigration, employing Peruvian and Mexican music styles in his compositions. There was an activist cry for freedom and justice in the songs he composed. John Finbury, the composer, has immersed himself in Latin music until this project. His current release is a complete surprise. This album eliminates the percussive rhythms and Latin energy he has been noted for in the past. Here is an album of Chamber Music, with jazz over-tones that twine their way into his production. A nocturne is music that reflects a romantic or dreamy quality. To achieve this, Finbury uses no bass or drums at all during these lovely arrangements. Instead, John features accordion, piano, guitar, harmonica and cello. Speaking of cello, Eugene Friesen gives us a dynamic and emotional rendering during his cello work on Track 5, "Fantasma," as does the sweet harmonica work of Roni Eytan. Peter Eldridge adds his vocalise on this tune.
Another favorite of mine is "Black Tea." Notably, I didn't miss the bass and drums at all. The melodic content of these songs is elegant, classical and the arrangements are relaxing to the ear. Finbury gives us a taste of his piano prowess on the final tune, performing solo on "Waltz for Patty." As a unit, these gifted musicians offer us a platter-full of beautifully played "American Nocturnes" that celebrate John Finbury's delicious composing skills. He warmly serves up a romantic project titled, the "Final Days of July" for our consumption.
‘In the fall of 1968, a sixteen-year-old Jewish kid named Danny Scher had a dream. He wanted to bring the renowned Thelonious Monk and his quartet to play a benefit concert at his high school in Palo Alto, California."
So begins a liner note by Robin D.G. Kelley, Monk's definitive biographer, for "Palo Alto," a previously unreleased recording of that concert, out now. (The music is available on CD and vinyl through the Impulse! label, and digitally through Legacy Recordings.)
Since Monk's death in 1982, the influence of his compact yet essential body of compositions has grown with each passing decade; once considered radical, they are now elemental to modern jazz. Even so, Monk's piano playing-his jarring rhythmic displacements, clotted chords, flat-fingered runs and spiky dissonances on "Well, You Needn't" here, for instance-still sounds distinct. "Palo Alto" enlightens as it delights, opening a window into how Monk challenged his bands and himself, endlessly refreshing his unusual yet accessible compositions. Plus, it comes with a good story.
Mr. Scher, who would go on to a career as a promoter with rock impresario Bill Graham, was, in 1968, the red-headed kid who spun jazz records during lunchtime at "Paly," as his school was known. Having already presented pianist Vince Guaraldi, vocalist Jon Hendricks and vibraphonist Cal Tjader in fundraisers for the campus International Club, he hired Monk's quartet for $500. His motivation was pure: Along with Duke Ellington, who he'd later bring to the school, Monk was his idol. He sold concert-program ads along his paper route in predominantly white, upscale Palo Alto. He put up posters in mostly Black, less affluent East Palo Alto, where a campaign was afoot to rename the municipality Nairobi, after the capital of Kenya. He was no doubt aware of a larger context for such cross-promotion: the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and the turmoil surrounding race.
What Mr. Scher likely didn't know is that Monk, who four years earlier had appeared on the cover of Time magazine, was deeply in debt (the pianist probably welcomed a chance to earn extra money in the middle of his two-week engagement at San Francisco's Jazz Workshop). Critics had begun turning on the pianist, acknowledging his importance yet calling his quartet "predictable" because he mostly stuck to his existing compositions while other marquee jazz stars, such as Miles Davis, restlessly transformed their music.
After the concert, Mr. Scher placed his reel-to-reel recording in a box, where it remained for decades. If not for a school janitor who agreed to tune the piano if he could record the show, this release wouldn't exist. It's not a perfect document-Monk's piano bench creaks through some passages-but the music sounds clear and affecting nonetheless.
Monk's quartet here-with tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, his sideman for a decade by then, along with bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben Riley, who joined Monk in 1964-was his most cohesive band, then at the height of its powers. Perhaps owing to the informal nature of the gig, the group seems particularly uninhibited. The music sounds ebullient.
Monk almost never began a set with a ballad, but he opens here with one of his own: "Ruby, My Dear," played at a medium tempo and punctuated by a succinct and deeply satisfying piano solo. Compared to "Live at the It Club"-a landmark album documenting this group four years earlier on a Los Angeles bandstand-the extended versions here of Monk's "Well, You Needn't" and "Blue Monk" sound looser, more creative. On "Well, You Needn't," Monk builds propulsion and drama with each chord, and Gales plays a long and playful bowed section. On "Blue Monk," the band seems less beholden to blues syntax than to organic call-and-response phrasing. "Epistrophy," which Monk co-wrote with drummer Kenny Clarke, exemplifies both the percussive nature of his pianism and his band's masterly sense of time.
The most gripping moments of this recording find Monk alone at the piano, playing songs he didn't write. On the Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields classic "Don't Blame Me," he grounds his left hand in stride-piano's bounce, rains down elegant arpeggios with his right and, in between, wrings maximum emotion from single notes. His closer, a solo rendition of "I Love You Sweetheart of All My Dreams," a 1928 song made famous by Rudy Vallee, lasts just one deeply affecting minute. As its final crashing chord evaporates into overtones the auditorium erupts in applause, to which Monk says, "We have to hurry back and get to work, you dig?"
And so he did. East Palo Alto didn't change its name. The identity of that Palo Alto janitor remains a mystery. Yet thanks to him and to this performance before an unlikely interracial audience in a high school auditorium, we have 47 minutes of rare pleasure, and a corrective to Monk's long-ago detractors. He never grew predictable. He just dug deeper into these tunes to innovate.
The Week in Jazz is your roundup of new and noteworthy stories from the jazz world. It's a one-stop destination for the music news you need to know. Let's take it from the top.
Diana Krall, one of the world's most beloved jazz artists, returns with a brand new album. This Dream of You is a collection of unheard recordings from sessions in 2016 and 2017. The album features the chanteuse/pianist performing classics within a variety of settings and includes some of her final works with her longtime creative partner, producer Tommy LiPuma, who passed away in 2017.
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The Week in Jazz is your roundup of new and noteworthy stories from the jazz world. It's a one-stop destination for the music news you need to know. Let's take it from the top.
Master pianist Keith Jarrett is releasing a new live solo double-album, Budapest Concert, on October 30 via ECM. The set documents a solo piano live performance at the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall in Budapest, Hungary. This is the second complete show to be issued from Jarrett's 2016 European show, recorded two weeks prior to the widely-acclaimed concert released as Munich 2016 released last year.
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In the fall of 1968, a sixteen-year old high school student named Danny Scher had a dream to invite legendary jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk and his all-star quartet to perform a concert at his local high school in Palo Alto, CA.
Violinist Daniel Hope spent his period of social distancing by performing chamber concerts online from his living room in Berlin with specially invited guests including Christoph Israel, Till Brönner, Matthias Goerne and more.
World-renowned singer-songwriter Melody Gardot announces her long-awaited new album along with the release of a highly anticipated single which sees her join forces with 17-time Grammy Award winning music icon Sting.
Robin McKelle released her new album Alterations on Doxie Records in February. On it, McKelle delves into the catalogue of some of the most celebrated women of song, interpreting these masterworks through the lens of the jazz idiom. McKelle follows in a long tradition of female song interpreters, lending her sultry vocal stylings to classics by a diverse list of female innovators including Dolly Parton, Sade, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Janis Joplin, Carol King, Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, and Lana Del Ray. McKelle is joined on this release by a group of consummate musicians including co-producer, pianist and arranger Shedrick Mitchell, acoustic and electric bassist Richie Goods, drummer Charles Haynes, guitarist Nir Felder. In addition, esteemed saxophonist Keith Loftis is featured on McKelle's sole original composition on this release, "Head High"; and renowned trumpeter Marquis Hill is featured on Lana Del Rey's "Born to Die". The first single from Alterations, McKelle's rendition of Sade's "No Ordinary Love."
WUCF: Orlando FL interviewed McKelle about the new recording and living in the COVID reality. Listen to the attached file
Robin McKelle is pleased to announce the February 14th, 2020 release of her new album Alterations. Vocalist Robin McKelle delves into the catalogue of some of the most celebrated women of song, interpreting these masterworks through the lens of the jazz idiom. On Alterations, McKelle follows in a long tradition of female song interpreters, lending her sultry vocal stylings to classics by a diverse list of female innovators including Dolly Parton, Sade, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Janis Joplin, Carol King, Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, and Lana Del Ray. McKelle is joined on this release by a group of consummate musicians including co-producer, pianist and arranger Shedrick Mitchell, acoustic and electric bassist Richie Goods, drummer Charles Haynes, guitarist Nir Felder. In addition, esteemed saxophonist Keith Loftis is featured on McKelle's sole original composition on this release, "Head High"; and renowned trumpeter Marquis Hill is featured on Lana Del Rey's "Born to Die". The first single from Alterations, McKelle's rendition of Sade's "No Ordinary Love", will be released in late January. Alterations will be released on Doxie Records and distributed and marketed by the Orchard.
An Enigmatic Sound, a Storyteller's Narrative and a Live Performance Style Imbued with Rat Pack Moxie Singer and Writer Robin McKelle is a Genre-Blurring Musical Alchemist, Taking Listeners on a Sonic Trip to the Old South, Sprinkling in Hints of the Motown Era or Even a Sade Album, and Mixing it Together to Create Her Inspiring Melodic Canvas' of Soul, Jazz, Gospel and More. On her new album - Melodic Canvas, McKelle is empowered by not trying to fit into a box, and the music is deeply textured, rich, and authentic. Melodic Canvas is also a timely social commentary, from the struggling teen in ‘Lyla' to the immigrant tale of ‘Simple Man'; the moments of social awareness, in ‘Yes We Can Can' (an Allen Toussaint cover featuring Chris Potter) and ‘It Won't End Up', are wise and inspiring without feeling heavy-handed; on first single ‘Do You Believe', McKelle questions religion, hate, misogyny.
Robin McKelle might have called this album The Real McKelle. "It's the record I've always dreamed of making. Not that there was anything stopping me in the past, it's simply that things panned out differently." The singer herself wrote most of the songs on this new production, a contemporary blend of soul and rhythm 'n' blues that avoids today's retro tendencies. "I love that music so much that I couldn't see myself doing something ‘in the style of…". I grew up listening to Nina Simone and Gladys Knight. I sang their classics and what I enjoy most today is building my own repertoire in that same soulful vein." Soul Flower mainly consists of original tracks along with a few covers, including an upbeat Walk On By.
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Robin McKelle comes out swinging on her second disc of big band jazz, Modern Antique. The bassist plucks some fat, rich chords, the pianist skitters over the keys, and McKelle herself confidently scats over the melody while the horn section eggs her on. The mood is playfully flirtatious, just this side of naughty. The entire combo is having so much fun and so are you that the tune is almost over before you realize it's an ingenious re-arrangement of Steve Miller's seventies classic, "Abracadabra."
2 New 'ON' this week: 140 Total
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On her newest release: Mess Around, Robin McKelle's warm contralto surrounds a first class rhythm 'n' blues record. After two albums devoted to big-band jazz and swing - Introducing Robin McKelle (2006) and Modern Antique (2008), Mess Around is a departure drawing from artists and groups such as The Bee Gees, Leonard Cohen, Doc Pomus, Willie Dixon and The Beatles. The aesthetic choices lend a wealth of meaning and consistency to the session, led by McKelle.
4 New ON this week: 163 Total Synd: Jazz Inspired, PRI/Jazz After Hours, WFMT/Jazz with Bob Parlocha, Sixty Second CD Direct: SiriusXM: Real Jazz & NPR Now(Jazz Inspired) Markets include: New York, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Wash DC, Philadelphia, Seattle, Minneapolis, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Cleveland, Denver, Portland, Baltimore, San Diego, Detroit, Las Vegas, San Diego, New Orleans, Memphis, Sacramento & Berekeley CA, Salt Lake, Austin TX, Orlando, Canada Online: The Jazzintersecion.com, RadioIO, Taintradio, Live 365, RadioIO
Having worked with Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, Michael McDonald, Wayne Shorter, Jon Secada & others, Robin McKelle now releases her debut album that broadens the boundaries of retro-swing. Introducing Robin McKelle evokes the spirit of 1940's America, while retaining an edge that speaks of a new time. With its balance of swing and balladry, the album heralds the arrival of a peerless interpretive artist.
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