Reviews that mention Thelonious Monk

August 11, 2014

On Screen

The Pleasures of Being Out of Step: Notes on the Life of Nat Hentoff
David L. Lewis (First Run Features)

By Ken Waxman

Ask most serious jazz writers who they would like to be when they grow up and the answer would likely be Nat Hentoff. For almost 70 years, Hentoff, now 89, has been involved with every aspect of jazz. At the same time he has been a staunch First Amendment advocate, defending absolute freedom of expression.

Produced and directed by David Lewis, The Pleasures of Being Out of Step is an intelligent 90-minute profile, weaving together frank interviews with Hentoff, his advocates and detractors, archival footage and audio, and it does an excellent job of placing the writer within political, journalistic and sociological currents. When he wasn’t writing about jazz, Hentoff was involved with the Civil Right and Anti-War movement was a friend of Malcolm X and Bob Dylan (he did the first serious interview with Dylan), a defender of Lenny Bruce (a clip of Hentoff cajoling a stoned Bruce into coherence is included) and debated everyone from conservatives like William F. Buckley to representatives of the Woman’s Movement. “Nat loves conflict,” his wife Margot says. Although Hentoff never missies an opportunity to return to the First Amendment, even citing Max Roach’s linkage of jazz’s group improvising with the American constitution, his importance to jazz is illuminated throughout. MORE

October 14, 2013

Lest We Forget:

Julius Watkins (1921-1977)
By Ken Waxman

A stylist whose innovative work in the ‘50s and ‘60s putting the French horn into a jazz context is analogous to what Coleman Hawkins did for the tenor saxophone and Louis Armstrong for the trumpet 30 years earlier, Julius Watkins almost singlehandedly created a viable role for the curved horn during the bop and post-bop eras.

Born in Detroit on October 10, 1921, Watkins began playing the French horn at nine in his school band and continued his studies at that city’s famous Cass Technical High School. Although he also played trumpet during a three year stint in Ernie Fields’ territory band in the mid-‘40s, by the end of the decade he had already recorded on his chosen instrument on sides with drummer Kenny Clarke and vocalist Babs Gonzales and toured as a hornist with pianist Milt Buckner’s band. After studying at the Manhattan School of Music in 1952, he spent the next quarter century in NYC. Within a few years he had recorded a couple of 10-inch LPs for Blue Note, featuring heavyweight such as tenor saxophonists Frank Foster or Hank Mobley, drummers Kenny Clarke or Art Blakey and bassist Oscar Pettiford. MORE

November 6, 2012

Lest We Forget:

Gigi Gryce (1927-1983)
By Ken Waxman

Arguably the most accomplished jazz musician to abandon his career at the height of his fame then make his mark elsewhere, was alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce. Gryce was one of jazz’s most creative composer-arrangers, whose precisely organized small groups and now classic tunes such as “Minority”, “Nica’s Tempo” and “Social Call” established new orchestral possibilities in the ‘50s and ‘60s. However he abruptly abandoned music in 1963 and spent the remainder of his life teaching music and other subjects full time. After his death, his educational achievements were honored when the Bronx public school at which he taught was renamed for him. MORE

December 10, 2011

Steve Lacy

School Days
Emanem 5016

By Ken Waxman

Nearly 50 years later it seems unbelievable, but this all-star quartet broke up after a couple of years of almost no work because few wanted to support a band that exclusively played what was then thought of as far-out music by pianist/composer Thelonious Monk. Yet, on the basis of the material recorded here in 1963, with Henry Grimes stentorian walking bass timbres and Dennis Charles’ free-flowing drum beats on side, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and trombonist Roswell Rudd were already so familiar with the Monk cannon that they were able to create their own swinging variations on such now-familiar Monk fare as Monk’s Dream and Brilliant Corners. MORE

July 2, 2008

Monk’s Music Thelonious Monk and Jazz History in the Making

By Gabriel Solis
University of California Press

Originally scorned, then patronized, yet eventually lionized, the career and compositions of Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) offer a lesson in the evolution of musical reputations. Today, both jazz’s neo-conservatives and its avant gardists claim the pianist’s as one of their own. Each makes its claim based on interpretation: fidelity to Monk’s scores or his ideas.

This volume synthesizes the situation, but except obliquely, comes down on neither side. Gabriel Solis, a professor at the University of Illinois, analyzes Monk in terms of sometimes bewildering academic theory, provides notated transcriptions of Monk’s records and compiles opinions of more than a dozen musicians. What emerges confirms his statement that “looking backwards and forward are not necessarily mutually contradictory.” MORE

August 22, 2002

RAT RACE BLUES: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce

By Noal Cohen & Michael Fitzgerald
Berkeley Hills Books

Romantic music par excellence, jazz is rife with myths about legends who suddenly burst onto the scene, dominated jazz consciousness for a time, then just as swiftly disappear, their vaporization related to drugs, alcohol, violence and sex -- or some combination of all three.

Lee Morgan, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Bix Beiderbecke and Lester Young are most prominent among the ranks of these fallen idols, whose numbers can be multiplied tenfold. Alto saxophonist/composer Gigi Gryce, a devout Muslim who never drank liquor or smoked anything, makes this list by default. He had been so prominent on the New York scene from 1953 to 1962, and vanished so completely afterwards, that many were sure that his story fit the mold. MORE