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by Seth Colter Walls

November 25, 2013

Late Night Piano: Thelonious Monk

by Seth Colter Walls  |  November 25, 2013

What's better company than piano music in the after-work hours? We say nothing, so we're giving you a series covering key piano innovators, which you can follow here.

Thelonious Monk -- a composer of immensely popular tunes who also cut something of a loner's figure -- has never lacked mystique. John Coltrane once observed that playing with the pianist could feel like falling down a dark elevator shaft; the tunes were so quick-changing, their composer's interpretations so surprising, that it was best to keep on one's toes.

That's just as much true for the listener: Monk the pianist can certainly spin a haunting, meditative solo (as on "Ruby, My Dear"), but he can also surprise with flashes of stride-rhythm power (check out his "Dinah"). And he can do both on the same album (those aforementioned performances can be found on Solo Monk).

We've collected gems from that record, plus other Monk-alone titles, and mixed them with cuts from his first small-group sessions, plus a live recording of his late-'50s quartet with Coltrane (on At Carnegie Hall). You can hear an early version of "Straight, No Chaser," and also discover Monk's way with standards like "April in Paris." But even when he's not soloing, Monk's piano work is worthy of attention: Just listen to the wild arpeggios that he uses to support Coltrane's performance of the theme during "Epistrophy." Our attached 90-minute playlist closes with two just-released tracks of solo Monk, taken from Paris 1969 (newly released by Blue Note). So click play, and enjoy! And some other evening, return to our series, and get into some more Late Night Piano.

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