Mahler, Monk, Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Saturday afternoon Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, worldwide via the German orchestra’s Digital Concert Hall. The performance was detailed, subtle and spectacular, and the moment the music ended, the audience let out  a huge cheer! Me too, in my living room, watching the livestream.

Then that night I was equally rewarded by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with new arrangements by the pivotal composer, Thelonious Monk, live in Rose Theater. All but one or two were premieres, most written by players in the band. Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis wrote two and was a frequent and welcome soloist in other people’s arrangements.

(Factoid: piece for piece, Monk’s music is arguably more recorded than Ellington’s, as I learned at the jazz talk prior to the concert.)

As host/saxophonist Ted Nash said from the stage, “We like to write for each other, to challenge each other.” The arrangers embedded lines from Monk’s recorded solos into their writing, playing hide-and-seek with the advantage going to those who know the originals in detail.

Four arrangements came from young people outside the band. One in particular — Matt Wong’s new vision of North of the Sunset from the Solo Monk album — stands out.

This transcription* of Monk’s solo recording shows the North of the Sunset melody …  

True to how  Monk wrote and played it, Wong   separated some phrases with .. silence! Full stops, no new sound, just space for a few beats. It was startling, and fun.

More than once during The JALC Plays Monk, the arrangers used the creative technique of divvying up a melody and handing it back as a sequence of phrases from section to section, player to player. To my ear Wong went further and made North of the Sunset into a fugue with overlapping voices. Then Wynton Marsalis’s solo drew the blues out of the song. And to close, Wong floated an  unconventional coda, not obviously tethered to North of the Sunset yet swimming in the same notes.

Here’s the full exhilarating program:

Eronel arranged by Victor Goines … solos by Carlos Henriquez, bass, and Goines, clarinet

Let’s Cool One arranged by Marcus Printup … Paul Nedzela, baritone sax; Dan Nimmer, piano

Shuffle Boil arranged by Ali Jackson … Sherman Irby, alto sax; Vincent Gardner, trombone

Misterioso with Round Midnight arranged by Jihye Lee … Marcus Printup, trumpet; Dan Nimmer, piano

North of the Sunset arranged by Matt Wong … Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Ted Nash, alto sax

Well, You Needn’t arranged by Sherman Irby …  Camille Thurman, tenor sax; Elliot Mason, trombone; Joe Farnsworth, drums


Off Minor arranged by Wynton Marsalis … Dan Nimmer, piano; Vincent Gardner, trombone; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet

Friday the 13th arranged by Kenny Rampton … Vincent Gardner, trombone; Kenny Rampton, trumpet

Ruby My Dear arranged by Joseph Block … Wynton Marsalis, trumpet

Ugly Beauty arranged by Wynton Marsalis … Dan Nimmer, piano

Little Rootie Tootie arranged by Esteban Castro … Sherman Irby, alto sax

Jackie-ing arranged by and featuring Ted Nash, alto sax, and the saxophone section

From Mahler to Monk, this was a Musical day.


Thanks to Chris Donnelly. His Monk transcriptions are a great resource, here. And if you’d like to read my notes about Chick Corea with the Jazz at Lincoln Center, go here.