Sonic Landscapes

An Online, Independent Radio Show from Cornell University

Tag: Jazz

Episode LV: Thelonious Monk

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This week on Sonic Landscapes we explore selections from the catalogue of the man in the beret and sunglasses–Thelonious Monk–one of jazz’s most intriguing personalities. Monk is one of the most recorded jazz composers of all time, second only to the great Duke Ellington–a remarkable fact considering that Ellington composed more than one thousand songs, and Monk only around 70. His singular style swaggers a thin line between the revolutionary flamboyance of free jazz [see Cecil Taylor] and the more funky exuberance of hard bop [see Cannonball Adderley]. Monk also explored negative space with a curiosity unheard in more orthodox jazz composition, punctuating his expressive improvisations and songs with sometimes jarring hesitations, silences, and syncopation. Monk’s percussive and unconventional style was not embraced by all–poet and jazz critic Philip Larkin once called Monk “the elephant on the keyboard.”

Monk was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1917, but soon moved to Manhattan, where the primordial elements of jazz music–ragtime, blues, swing–were simmering. In the 1920’s, the rebellious and sensual nature of Jazz music was perfectly suited as a soundtrack for the illicit nightscape of Prohibition era America, offering a release from the tempered conservatism prevailing in law and social convention.

As the house pianist at Minton’s Playhouse in the early 1940’s, Thelonious Monk conceived the foundation of his style with the inspiration of some of his fellow musicians, a group which included Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and later, Miles Davis. At a time when musicians practiced active creative thievery–the incorporation of heard sounds into their own compositions–these artists sought a style which was impossible to recreate or mimic. And so bebop was born from necessity, spontaneity, and zeal.

Monk went on to record with many of the great jazz musicians of history–Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, and so forth. His discography also attests to his perpetual globetrotting with releases such as Monk in FranceThelonious Monk in Italy, and Monk in Tokyo. 

By the mid-1970’s, however, Monk had disappeared from the scene. Some attribute his decline into creative dormancy to mental illness, perhaps caused by schizophrenia or even a misdiagnosis and incorrect prescription, which some believe might have caused permanent and severe brain damage.

In this episode of Sonic Landscapes we explore this incredible artist chronologically, from his early recordings on Blue Note Records to his later works on Columbia. The episode ends with a tribute to Monk by legendary hip hop producer J Dilla on Common’s album Like Water For Chocolate, a testament to Monk’s enduring influence beyond the realm of the genre that he helped craft.

To listen to this episode, simply right click on the link below to download onto your computer or click to listen streaming:

Episode LV: Thelonious Monk

The Playlist:

1. Ruby My Dear, from Genius of Modern Music Volume 1 [1947]

2. Skippy from, from Genius of Modern Music Volume 2 [1951]

3. (I Don’t Stand) A Ghost of a Chance With You, from Thelonious Himself [1957]

4. Nutty [with John Coltrane], from Thelonious Monk With John Coltrane [1957]

5. I Mean You [with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers], from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers With Thelonious Monk [1958]

6. Round Lights, from Thelonious Alone in San Francisco [1959]

7. Jackie-Ing [with Charlie Rouse, Sam Jones, Thad Jones & Thelonious Monk], from 5 By Monk By 5 [1959]

8. Teo, from Monk. [1964]

9. Ask Me Now, from Solo Monk [1964]

10. Pannonica (Live), from Straight No Chaser [1966]

11. Thelonious, from Underground [1967]

12. Thelonious ft. Slum Village – Common, from Like Water for Chocolate [2000]

Episode LIII: Jazzhands [Guest Mix by Comrade Daniel]

This week’s episode of Sonic Landscapes is brought you by none other than Comrade Dan Robbins, aficionado of all things tasteful. He provided us with a mix of music that will wash over you, a perfectly soothing culmination to a semester of diverse music fueled by the support of our diverse listenership.

Dan writes of this mix:

“With finals upon us, the perfect playlist becomes a strong cup of coffee. For me, it’s a sequence of tracks that accomplishes two seemingly contradictory goals: relaxation and motivation. To achieve this end, there’s little better than the wide world of jazz. This episode consequently follows the wise words of omniscient aesthete Nicole Richie: ‘Well, I enjoy every music from jazz to country, and I even get down with a bit of hip hop.’ The playlist is neither an exhaustive nor chronological exploration of the hotly debated genre. It’s instead a meandering through some of my favorite study tunes, sampling an ever-growing musical landscape of bebop revivalism, jazz-fusion, and funk-driven rap.”

(To listen to this episode, simply right click and choose “download linked file,” or click normally to listen streaming)

Sonic LIII: Jazzhands [Guest Mix by Comrade Robbins]

The Playlist with Dan’s commentary:

1. “I Want You Back” – Lake Street Dive [2012]

A professor at Boston’s New England Conservatory put four of his best artists in a room and told them to make a free country / jazz crossover band. This (thankfully) is what they came up with. Tennessee vocalist Rachael Price has pipes nothing short of Elysian on their cover of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” 

2. “The World is Yours/Brooklyn Zoo” – BADBADNOTGOOD [2011]

Three hooligans from Toronto who concoct ridiculous mixes of hip hop and classical (Gucci Mane and Claude Debussy!?). They came onto the scene making music for Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean. This all-instrumental cover takes Nas’ “The World is Yours” into the late Old Dirty Bastard’s “Brooklyn Zoo.”

3. “Hottentot” – John Scofield [1998]

One of the “big three” of current jazz guitarists (along with Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell), Scofield lays down some of the best distorted rock-jazz improvisations.

4. “Blackbird” –  Brad Mehldau [1996]

A cover worthy of the original Paul McCartney composition.

5. “I Know You Know” – Esperanza Spalding [2008]

Spalding beat out Bieber for “Best New Artist” at the 2011 Grammys… and rightfully so. 

6. “(Go) Get It” – Pat Metheny [2000]

My first concert ever was the Pat Metheny Trio at Purchase College with my parents. Still one of the best.

7. “I Be Blowin'” – De La Soul [1993]

Queens/Long Island rap legends De La Soul with Fred Wesley (then leader of James Brown band, the JB’s, and later part of Parliament-Funkadelic).

8. Transit Ride – Guru [1993] 

Guru – MC of Gang Starr – stacked up one of the most authentic jazz/rap fusion albums to date with the four-part Jazzmatazz. This track features hooks from legendary saxophonist Branford Marsalis and Zachary Breaux on guitar. 

9. Cissy Strut – Dirty Dozen Brass Band [2002]

A funky take on The Meters’ funky classic.

10. Salt Peanuts [Carnegie Hall Version] Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker [1945]

The origins of the now seminal “Salt Peanuts” motif remain debated. This song always makes me laugh, though, and the live 1945 cut kills it. 

11. Body and Soul – Coleman Hawkins [1939]

Hawkins’ “Body and Soul” has a distinctive cadence that paved the way in rejecting big band swing for a more assertive, expressive jazz.

12. Angelina – Earl Klugh [2005]

A staple go-to-sleep song for me.

13. Mama Roux – Dr. John [1968]

Inspired by medicine shows, Mardi Gras costumes, and voodoo ceremonies, this jazzy New Orleans track has one helluva hook. And Dr. John is one of the few dudes who can get away with wearing a long braid, feathered fedora, and earrings. 


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