UPDATED 9/4: “[It’s] one of the best live recordings I’ve ever heard by Thelonious…I wasn’t even aware of my dad playing a high school gig, but he and the band were on it.” So says T.S. Monk, son of groundbreaking jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. “When I first heard the tape, from the first measure, I knew my father was feeling really good.”
The younger Monk is talking about Palo Alto, a newly unearthed concert recorded October 27, 1968 which will — after much anticipation — finally see physical and digital release on September 18. Impulse! Records will handle physical distribution, while digital sales and streams will be managed by Legacy Recordings. For those who purchased the exclusive orange vinyl variant through Vinyl Me Please, copies are set to ship in October.
The upcoming 47-minute live album documents a show at Palo Alto High School. It was arranged by one of the school’s students, Danny Scher. Though he’d organized jazz concerts for the school before, he knew that getting Thelonious Monk would be a challenge. Monk was under new management and was dealing with many financial troubles and health issues. Add to it the sociopolitical climate of the late ’60s and the worry held by school administrators over racial tensions — there was a lot standing in the way. Yet, even while in the middle of a three-week stint at San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop, Monk and his band (tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist Larry Gales, drummer Ben Riley) made it to the auditorium and in time for their set back in ‘Frisco.
Incredibly, the sold-out show was recorded by the high school’s janitor who asked to tape it in return for tuning the piano. So, decades on, listeners will be treated to a dynamic mix of originals and standards. Monk’s signature tunes “Ruby My Dear,” “Well, You Needn’t,” and “Blue Monk,” are all given spirited workouts with dazzling solos from the whole band, proving their expert facilitation of dynamic opportunities and melodic adventures throughout. Monk’s solos often rock from straight-ahead scales presented in his unique stride style, to off-kilter and lightning-fast interpolations of familiar themes, and of course plenty of pleasant dissonance. Even on standards like “Don’t Blame Me” and the exquisite and brief “I Love You Sweetheart of All My Dreams,” Monk makes the familiar his own with beautiful harmonic substitutions and exciting solos.
The album will be released on CD and LP September 18. The LP boasts a truly deluxe presentation with a gatefold sleeve, printed inners, a booklet with liner notes by Robin D. G. Kelley (author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original), plus reproductions of the original concert poster and program. For fans of color vinyl, the subscription program Vinyl Me Please offers an exclusive variant on transparent orange swirl vinyl.
You can get a taste of the show with “Epistrophy,” available to stream now. It’s a piece that spotlights Monk’s love for dissonance, full of minor-second intervals and non-chord tones that give the piece an air of confusion, especially when played in as frenzied a manner as it is here. As delightful as it is dizzying, the rendition is a perfect example of what makes Monk such an interesting composer and performer. It’s no wonder Impulse! selected it as the lead single.
Palo Alto is a lost treasure that Monk’s fans are sure to enjoy. It’s available now to pre-order on CD and LP for release on September 18. Find the links below and enjoy the preview of “Epistrophy”!
Thelonious Monk, Palo Alto (Impulse! Records/UMe (physical) / Legacy Recordings (digital), 2020)
- Ruby, My Dear (7:00)
- Well, You Needn’t (13:16)
- Don’t Blame Me (6:36)
- Blue Monk (14:02)
- Epistrophy (4:26)
- I Love You Sweetheart of All My Dreams (2:02)
Recorded live at Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, CA, October 27, 1968