Anyway, I put on “Solo Monk” first. I’m not a big fan of solo piano. But I always loved when you performed alone. Most solo piano albums I’ve listened to come off as practicing. Not your solo sets. I had a surreal moment with “Solo Monk” as if you and Nellie invited me over for beer, sandwiches, and a private concert. I was in heaven.
Just me and you in your study as you played “Dinah,” “Sweet and Lovely,” “I Surrender” and other Monk classics. At one point, I envisioned Nellie walking into the study carrying refreshments as you began “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You)”. Nellie put the refreshments on the table next to Robin D.G. Kelley’s biography “Thelonious Monk the Life of an American Original”.
Then Nellie asked me to dance. I put my arm around her waist and we slow dragged. Monk, Nellie is like my wife soft-spoken, petite and seemingly born to be an unselfish wife.
After I was finished with “Solo Monk,” I put on “Monk’s Dream”. That’s my favorite Monk album mostly because of your longtime running buddy Charlie Rouse. As a tenor player, Rouse was unsung. I never hear Rouse mentioned when great jazz tenor players are discussed. Rouse was a craftsman. Rouse never played wildly. He was too down to earth for that. I gather that was why you hired Rouse in the first place.
Monk, back in 2006, I got into an exchange with my editor at the Metrotimes. Blue Note Records had released “Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane Live at Carnegie Hall”. All the leading jazz magazines talked about how great it was. It made many noted jazz writers—including my editor’s—list of top jazz albums of 2006.
It didn’t score well with me. It was overrated. I told my editor so, adding the only tenor player that you really connected with was Rouse. My editor asked what about your work with greats such as Johnny Griffin, Harold Land and Sonny Rollins. You and Rouse were soul-mates.
Speaking of Johnny Griffin, I played your live album “Misterioso” next. You made it at the Five Spot in the summer of 1958. Griffin was in the band along with drummer Roy Haynes and bass player Ahmed Abdul Malik. Honestly, it wasn’t your best outing. I fault Griffin. Griffin was in his own little world, sleepwalking through your songs and his solos. Honestly, Monk you were off your game.
I followed up “Misterioso” with “Thelonious Monk Quartet plus Two at the Blackhawk” and “Underground”. On the latter album, I kept replaying “In Walked Budd”. Next to “Rootie Tootie” that’s my favorite Monk song. I especially love the version of “In Walked Budd” on "Underground" because you did it with singer John Hendricks, the king of jazz scatting. Hendricks could take apart a song part by part like a mechanic a transmission.
By now, you may be tired of me going on and on about your work. Chances are you forgot about many of your albums In your lifetime, you made so many classics I imagine it would be hard to keep track. Monk, you played the piano as if it were an extension Nellie, taking your own sweet time with each note that you played. For proof, I point to “Everything Happens to Me,” the eighth cut on “Solo Monk”. It was the best weekend I’ve had in a long time.