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.

Frank Carlberg and Johnny O’Neal Play Monk

Thelonious Monk’s 101st birthday month is almost over. Here in New York the re-invention has continued.

On Monday, October 8, the Frank Carlberg Large Ensemble, led by a native of Finland now based in Brooklyn, played music from the album Monk Dreams Hallucinations and Nightmares (no punctuation) at Dizzy’s Club.

For the long arcs of the pieces, the Monk themes and memes as incidentals, the fearless and appealing broken octaves that persisted through the set, the solos and the quiet endings, I would see this band again.

There is also text. Dark text as Christine Correa recites/sings Abide With Me — the hymn is played piano-free on Monk’s Music (1958) —  interjecting the phrase “Thelonious is dead” and referring to a winter night (he died February 17, 1982).

Maybe the Carlberg arrangement of Round Midnight overwhelms the song within, but Kurt Knuffke delivered a strong and original solo on cornet.

Everybody delivers, and I would try this band again! Expecting to be uneasy some of the time. (There’s a sample here.)

On Saturday night, the 13th, I was again on a barstool, this time at Smoke with two ardent Norwegian fans/friends who have followed and presented jazz for decades. We came for the Thelonious Monk Celebration featuring the Johnny O’Neal Quintet. The leader plays the piano of my dreams. On Monk’s I Mean You, I thought I heard a dash of Erroll Garner though I could see not a trace of effort. On Ask Me Now, alto saxophonist Antonio Hart’s playing and pleading summoned the memory of Johnny Hodges in the Ellington Orchestra. O’Neal’s voice is another pleasure. I wish I could find the words — he certainly can — though he left Monk behind when he sang A Sunday Kind of Love. Then came Alfie, Blue Monk, and a guest vocalist joining for La Belle Vie. Poof! It was over. Smoke is intimate. That’s why people love it. The next audience was lining up outside. I don’t live in Norway; I’ll be back.

There’s a feature about O’Neal’s CD In the Moment from Smoke Sessions here.




Miles Okazaki and WORK at the Jazz Gallery

The guitarist has released an album of all Monk’s tunes. He calls it WORK and, introducing Miles Okazaki on Friday night at the Jazz Gallery, the MC said it’s the first album with all the pianist’s compositions in one place. Onstage, drummer Damion Reid was Okazaki’s partner, but his 70-track album WORK is solo.

Here are the Monk compositions that I think I heard in the first set: Locomotive, Worry Later (San Francisco Holiday), Misterioso, Introspection, Gallops Gallop (introduced by the guitarist), and — after a piece that I couldn’t identify — Crepuscule with Nellie. Work, the piece, was somewhere in the two sets that I heard but I can’t tell you where. No apparent set lists, just flow.

I love the concept and though it’s not unique to Okazaki, he is a fine practitioner. He gets inside a song, hears the parts and then proceeds to repeat, reduce, reflect, refract, rephrase, reorder, invert, inflate, combine …

The album with complete audio is on

As with Steelonious (see the next post), there’s no piano — Monk’s instrument — in WORK. Now I’m on my way to the Frank Carlberg Large Ensemble for Monk Dreams Hallucinations and Nightmares at Dizzy’s at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Steelonious: Taking the Piano out of Monk Tunes

In my phone I have a fake book in pdf format, with hand-printed lead sheets for almost 70 Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) compositions, from Ask Me Now to Worry Later. I’m trying to learn them.

So two Sundays ago my friend Marian Eines (of the brass band Zlatne Uste) and I met up at Barbès (small music room that often features brass bands) in Brooklyn for Mike Neer on lap steel guitar with music from his album Steelonious. Thelonious played piano.

Monk compositions are jazz essentials — the canon inside the canon — and Steelonious sings them with new voices and dances to different beats.

Epistrophy anticipates trumpeter Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder (a generation later). Ask Me Now has a sweet coda. In Off Minor, drummer Diego Voglino seems to conjure Gene Krupa. Nutty is a reggae. I Mean You is “Texas style,” in Neer’s words, and Round Midnight is “soft and pretty” with a wisp of Hawaii.

Just when I decide that Neer’s steel soars above and guitarist Nate Radley stays more rhythmic, they switch. Matt Lavoca on bass responds to everyone, always adjusting. Steelonious blows new air through Monk’s tunes.

Straight No Chaser has a march beat, Misterioso a bossa. The steel and the guitar divide the melody between them. To close, they play In Walked Bud but not at the original jaunty tempo. Slower.

Soon I’ll go to the Jazz Gallery for guitarist Miles Okazaki, whose solo album Work: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Monk, has iron — not steel — on the cover. It’s a picture of train tracks crossing in Rocky Mount, NC, where Monk grew up.