Gabriel SolisThelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall

Oxford University Press, 2013

by Doc Stull on September 7, 2014

Gabriel Solis

View on Amazon

On November 29, 1957, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holliday, Zoot Sims, Chet Baker, Sonny Rollins, and a multi-talented young R&B player who played jazz that night, Ray Charles, and others played a benefit concert for the Morningside Recreation Center at Carnegie Hall.  Almost a half a century later, these recordings, intended to be played on radio Voice of America, were found in the Library of Congress.  The aforementioned artists’ performances were never made available and yet, one set from that night was released, featuring a quartet with pianist Thelonious Monk, saxophonist John Coltrane with Shadow Wilson on drums and Abdul-Ahmed Malik on bass.  That recording, on Blue Note records, released in 2005, was a critical and commercial sensation.

Monk and Coltrane had played more than 100 shows together the previous five months at the Five Spot Club in New York City and, as Gabriel Solis writes in his thought-provoking multi-disciplinary analysis of their program, that Carnegie Hall concert was “a compendium of what was possible in the jazz conventions of the day and a glimpse of how these jazz conventions could be pushed forward.”

The Monk/Coltrane concert set featured two great icons in the history of jazz at different points in their career.  Monk had already established himself as a unique, eccentric and groundbreaking composer and performer and bandleader, too (as Solis points out in our interview).  John Coltrane was still evolving into one of the most multi-perspectived yet focused and revered players in American jazz.   It was, as Solis documents, in many ways a golden age of jazz: besides new recording technologies that afforded the possibility of longer recordings with greater listening fidelity, it was an age of “legendary instensity” when players such as Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Max Roach, Benny Golson,  Dizzy Gillispie, MJQ, Hank Mobly, Hank Jones, Milt Jackson, Lennie Tristano, and Gerry Mulligan “wrote and played and recorded songs and albums that would challenge their contemporaries and become standards in time.”  And, jazz had not “separated” from pop music.  People went to clubs to hear live jazz;  they went in great numbers to jazz concerts/benefits – and, at the same jazz recordings were being brought into the country’s living rooms to larger and larger audiences.

Gabriel Solis, an Associate Professor in Music, African-American studies and Anthropology at the University of Illinois, has written a fascinating volume about the cultural significance of the concert, contextual insights about the serendipitous yet important collaborative bond between Monk and Coltrane, “close reading” musical analyses as to how each piece on their set “played out” with respect to the members of the quartet, and a retrospective look at the significance of the public’s and critical responses to the CD’s release by Blue Note Records in 2005.

In Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Oxford UP, 2013) Solis discusses whether the popularity of the CD after its release in 2005 is evidence of nostalgic reverence for an era gone by, or a validation that jazz is alive-and-well and more appreciated than ever.  Of course, Solis knows it’s far more complicated than that, but he improvises riffs and ruminations that stimulate the reader into pleasing new ponderings about the meaning of “nostalgia,” the “is jazz dead?” question (which Solis notes going back as least as far as 1964), the decline of the jazz clubs, the ascendency of jazz studies in the Academy, and interesting perspectives on Monk’s and Coltrane’s musical development at the time of the concert.

Solis devotes Chapters 3-6 to musical analysis of individual songs as follows:  Playing Ballads:  “Monk’s Mood,” and “Crepuscule with Nellie,” Up-tempo Tunes, Convention, and Innovation:  “Evidence” and “Nutty,” Scripting the Sound of Surprise:  “Bye-Ya” and “Sweet and Lovely,” and Abiding Favorites:  “Blue Monk” and “Epistrophy.”

An overriding theme in Solis’ analyses is how Monk allowed Coltrane “space” to  develop, extend and integrate his solos,  a precursor to  his “sheets of sound” that he became known for later in his career.  Solis quotes Coltrane as commenting that playing with Monk was like “steeping into an elevator shaft.”  This freedom allowed Coltrane, according to Solis, to “learn from Monk the idea of building the architectonics of a solo from the materials of the head , creating a kind of unification to the whole performance that was often not heard in modern jazz.”  Monk also was ably supported by immensely talented long-time band members including drummer Shadow Wilson and bass-player Ahmed-Abdul Malik.

Like the other excellent books in the Oxford Studies in Recorded Jazz series about significant concert or studio recordings, Solis’ work can be approached on many levels– count yourself in for many more listenings and excursions into the infinite complexities and nuances in each piece;  you’ll get to better know Monk and Coltrane each time you listen.  Solis has written a wonderful account and analysis about that late November 1957 collaboration between two of jazz’s great composers and performers, a performance that once was lost but now, serendipitously, was found.

{ 0 comments }

David HesmondhalghWhy Music Matters

June 19, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Critical Theory] What is the value of music and why does it matter? These are the core questions in David Hesmondhalgh‘s new book Why Music Matters (Wiley Blackwell, 2014). The book attempts a critical defence of music in the face of both uncritical populist post-modernism and more economistic neo-liberal understandings of music’s worth. Hesmondhalgh develops [...]

Read the full article →

Marc MyersWhy Jazz Happened

April 7, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Pop Music] How did jazz take shape? Why does jazz have so many styles? Why do jazz songs get longer as the twentieth century proceeds? Marc Myers, in his fascinating book Why Jazz Happened (University of California Press, 2014) examines the social and economic forces affected the growth of jazz between 1942 and 1972. Myers [...]

Read the full article →

Derrick BangVince Guaraldi at the Piano

April 3, 2014

In Vince Guaraldi at the Piano (McFarland Press, 2012), Derrick Bang chronicles San Francisco jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi’s sojourns into the world of jazz from the late 1940s to his untimely death in 1976. Guaraldi, known to most world-wide as the composer and pianist behind the Peanuts’ animated television specials featuring Charlie Brown and Snoopy, also [...]

Read the full article →

Keith WatersThe Studio Recordings of the Miles Davis Quintet, 1965-1968

January 18, 2014

“…when people were hearing us, they were hearing the avant-garde on the one hand, and they were hearing the history of jazz that led up to it on the other hand – because Miles was that history.” -Herbie Hancock, 1968 Professor of music and musician/composer Keith Waters at the University of Colorado, Boulder has produced [...]

Read the full article →

Brian HarkerLouis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings

September 2, 2013

“The public don’t understand jazz music as we musicians do.  A diminished seventh don’t mean a thing to them, but they go for high notes.   After all, the public is paying.   If musicians depended on musicians at the box office they would starve to death.” –Louis Armstrong Brian Harker’s Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven [...]

Read the full article →

Catherine TackleyBenny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert

March 19, 2013

Feed: “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” Comic:  “Practice!” When I first began to build a jazz record library back in the early 1960s, one particular album stood out.  A rare “double-album,” Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert was more akin in appearance to the records in my parents’ classical record collection.  [...]

Read the full article →

Bernie Williams, Dave Gluck, Bob ThompsonRhythms of the Game: The Link Between Musical and Athletic Performance

December 5, 2012

“Around 380 BC, the Greek philosopher Plato wrote in the Republic about the idealized society as having a “united influence of music and sport” where its people “mingle music with sport in the fairest of proportions.” – from the Rhythms of the Game: The Link Between Musical and Athletic Performance (Hal Leonard Corporation, 2011) As [...]

Read the full article →

Benjamin CawthraBlue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz

September 18, 2012

Ben Cawthra’s Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz (University of Chicago, 2011) discusses the way images of jazz and the musicians who played it both reflected and influenced our racial perceptions during the period between the 1930s and 1960s.  Cawthra reveals the complex interactions between socially conscious photographers, magazine editors, record producers, jazz [...]

Read the full article →

Dave OliphantKD: A Jazz Biography

August 10, 2012

Texas poet/author/historian Dave Oliphant’s KD: A Jazz Biography (Wings Press, 2012) is a poetic tribute to the life of Jazz trumpeter and one of the original Jazz Messengers, Kenny Dorham.   Dorham, who played with some of the jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, Monk and many, many others, is less well known [...]

Read the full article →