Monk Makes Singles

The whole idea of jazz “singles” seems a little absurd. It’s a widely held article of faith among jazzers and rank civilians, that jazz hasn’t had hits since Glenn Miller had folks kissing (?) in parked cars to “Moonlight Serenade.” And if truth be told, there’s only ever been one jazz album since the big band days, never mind the singles, that broke into the larger consciousness and that's Kind of Blue. No, Brubeck, “Take Five,” fans I haven’t forgotten you but if you ask casual fans what the best jazz record is, Miles trumps Dave most of the time.

Which brings me to Thelonious Monk `Round Midnight: The Complete Blue Note Singles (1947-1952). The man’s genius needs little explanation: he looked at the world and his music in a distinctly different way than every other jazz player and in turn his influence today, particularly on piano players, is almost limitless. In keeping with the ongoing celebration of that storied label’s 75th anniversary celebration, the label, now owned by Universal has released one of those bound book-like packages of all of Monk’s 78’s compiled on CD in order of release. While there’s an MP3 version of this package, and many of these tunes, are available via the Genius of Modern Music albums that exist on HDTracks in a high resolution 24/192 format, the sound here is package is very listenable, probably the best 16/44.1 CD quality yet released.

Most of Monk’s best-known tunes are here, from the title track to “Epistrophy, Misterioso,” and “Straight No Chaser.” The music in this package was remastered by Kevin Reeves at 4th Floor Studios in NYC. It was sourced from the Rudy Van Gelder series digital masters from 2001. Those were sourced from the original transcription discs. For Monk collectors, there’s a disc of bonus tracks that according to the cover copy were “later issued in various formats.” There also does seem to be one or two images in the booklet of Monk and his sidemen that I haven’t seen before. Many of the sidemen are peerless like trumpeter Kenny Dorham, alto player Lou Donaldson and drummers Max Roach and Art Blakey. There are also lesser-known talents like alto player Danny Quebec West and tenor man Billy Smith. While the liner notes by Kirk Silsbee could provide more info on the sourcing of the music and what was actually done to the RVG masters (I suspect very little), they do contain this priceless bit of understatement: “Monk apparently had a very lively interior world.”

Allen Fant's picture

1959- was the most-important year in Jazz music. So many cornerstone albums were released that year, alone. The bar was set so high, that, it would never be beaten (no pun). Monk Lives!

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

How does this compare to Monk's "Genius of Modern Music," Vol.'s 1 & 2 (Blue Note), which are exactly from the same time period, 1947 & 1951-2, respectively, and are inarguably the essential core of his oeuvre? How much overlap is there? Are there equally indispensable recordings, not available elsewhere, in this collection? What are they?

TNtransplant's picture

As far as I can tell, this seems to be all 47 extant Monk recordings for Blue Note, with exception of 2 tracks from a 1957 Sonny Rollins led session. The "Singles" title reference seems odd as I've rarely if ever heard of 78's referred to as singles. Based on booklet from the very first Mosaic 4 LP release "The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Thelonious Monk" there were actually only 2 Monk "45's" (one apparently split w/Milt Jackson) and 15 "78's"(one split w/Tadd Dameron) originally released between 1948 to 1953. For the record, The Genius of Modern Music RVG remastered CD's from 2001 have 39 tracks and the HDtracks versions are much stingier only having 24 tracks between the 2 volumes.

And yes, 'Kind of Blue' is a masterpiece and probably the best selling "jazz catalog" title of the modern era over the years, but as far "... one jazz album since the big band days, never mind the singles, that broke into the larger consciousness" -- my vote would have to go "Getz/Gilberto" in terms of relative popularity at the time of initial release. I know it was the only album approaching jazz my parents had among their Broadway show soundtracks and complete schlock (Ferrante & Teicher anyone?) LP's in the 60's.