Home » Stories » Thelonious Monk's legendary 1968 concert at Palo Alto High School, shelved for decades, captures some of the fiercest, most spirited versions of his quartet's repertoire / Pitchfork

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Thelonious Monk's legendary 1968 concert at Palo Alto High School, shelved for decades, captures some of the fiercest, most spirited versions of his quartet's repertoire / Pitchfork

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Thelonious Monk once said: "Weird means something you never heard before. It's weird until people get around to it. Then it ceases to be weird." By the time Monk and his quartet strode into the auditorium at Palo Alto High School on October 27, 1968, people hadn't just gotten around to his oblong, minimalist take on jazz-they'd left it behind. After decades of toiling in New York's clubs to little outside recognition, Monk had briefly tasted superstardom, culminating in a 1964 Time magazine cover. Less than half a decade later, he'd slipped to No. 6 on DownBeat's International Critics Poll ranking jazz's best pianists, and writers routinely dismissed his playing as stale and uninspired. Still, he was Thelonious Sphere Monk: If he was no longer weird, and no longer a superstar, he was still a legend. A legend who couldn't afford to miss a $500 payday at a high school.

The live album Palo Alto is a grainy snapshot of Monk and his classic quartet taking a break from their two-week stand at San Francisco's Jazz Workshop to cut loose and get paid. But just as Monk's music was characterized by the power of its empty spaces-he's the person who said, "It's not the notes you play, it's those you leave out," a chestnut as well-worn as any of his songs-Palo Alto's thrills are made poignant by what was happening in his life unbeknownst to the audience, and what was happening in their life unbeknownst to Monk. This is exuberant, abundant music, made by and performed for people whose lives often felt anything but.

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