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United Our Thing Will Stand April 28, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Jazz Fest, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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2 comments

To follow up on a Jazz Fest related post Forty Years Down the Road from a few days ago, here’s another legend of New Orleans gone from the ranks: James Booker. These days we get Billy Joel on the Acura stage instead.

Fess and Booker and all the rest are more than a set of cutouts in the infield, or a face hanging above a stage. They float over the Fairgrounds like the clouds of May, a subtle presence most Big Chiefs from Kansas City never notice but which subtly touches everything at Jazz Fest worthy of the name.

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Ruby My Dear July 6, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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7 comments

Searching for an old musical reference here, it occurred to me that I had never posted on Thelonious Monk.

What the hell have I been doing?

I am not Nat Hentoff and won’t pretend to be. I can’t take apart charts or knowledgeably discuss the session musicians of this or that recording. There are two approaches to music, one strongly Apollonian and as concerned with discographies and session notes as a baseball fan is with statistics and records.

My approach is definitely more Dionysian What I take away from jazz is more mysterious and ethereal, a transport out of this world and deeper in, rather like Don Juan’s magic mushrooms: a study aid for the satorially challenged. There are people who will take your further out than Monk (Sun Ra and Pharaoh Sanders come to mind, among those I have written about or posted recordings of here). Monk at his best takes you in further than anyone else.

The man could certain write a tune. (And somewhere poor Mr. Hentoff, who is still with us, is having mild chest pains as I write the world “tune” in proximity to Monk’s name). Still, he can claim a fare share of of modern standards as his own. If I say ‘Round Midnight” you say (I’m just guessing here, but I bet I’m write): Miles Davis.

That was a Monk tune.

Ruby My Dear is one of my favorites, a slow ballad that showcases his ability to swing with the group and still take the melody line and work his magic on it. That magic is a bit hard to explain. His playing style both on solos and ensemble rhythm have an angular intensity to them, like walking into a fun house where the floor is tilted and the furniture nailed down. He uses ornamental notes and chords and silences in ways not thought of or described by the people who gave grand Italian names to the forms of “grace note”. It is as if he took up the melody like a tightly wrapped present and occasionally gave it a good shake, then put his ear up to it to listen to the result. It’s a bit disconcerting at first but just listen. There is an internal logic there and something like the sound of one hand clapping.

This is Johnny Griffin on tenor. There are outstanding recordings of “Ruby, My Dear” with Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane. My favorite is the Solo Monk version which is just that: Monk alone with his piano and his music.

I will spare you the odd performance on theramin I found out there. God, but the Internet is an Odd place (and that is why we like it, but really). Here instead is an odd video of no seeming purpose but which thankfully contains Monk’s solo performance of this number. Just close your eyes, and let him carry you away.

I should also point out that through the efforts of Terence Blanchard the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz program relocated from from Los Angeles to New Orleans, and is now based on Loyola University.

Recommended beverage pairing for this music is Brother Thelonius Belgian style dark ale. It’s not just the cool graphic (I have the poster and t-shirt, and Im considering the tattoo). As a hop snob I’ll point out that it is first rate, and you may disregard the further postings of anyone on Beer Advocate who does not give it a solid A if not an A+. But this is not about the ale. (And as I post this up Martin’s Wine Cellar is closed so you can’t get any until tomorrow). It’s about the music, so stop listening to me ramble on and go press that play button. Again. I’ll see you on the other side.