Celebration of Thelonious Monk Flips the Jazz Giant’s Classics

100 years after his crash landing on our planet with a melodious thunk, the music of Thelonious Sphere Monk remains among the most original, thrilling, challenging and inventive music ever composed in any genre. And since Monk’s arrival on the bebop scene in the ‘40s, musicians the world over have shown their love and respect for both the man and his music. By the time Monk made the cover of Time Magazine on February 28, 1964, the iconoclastic pianist/composer/arranger was riding a wave of recognition that has only grown exponentially since with volumes of albums by other artists devoted exclusively to Monk songs. A documentary on Monk produced by Clint Eastwood took its name from one of his signature pieces (and titles): “Straight, No Chaser.”

On Sunday, October 1, Angel City Jazz proudly invites jazz lovers to knock one back – aurally speaking - as it presents the opening day festivities of its 10th annual Angel City Jazz Festival in honor of the forthcoming centennial of his birth. This two-part evening kicks off with Monk’s Afro-Cuban Dream, featuring the composer’s songs performed in new Latin jazz arrangements. Part 2, Monk: DJ Style, will feature DJs/turntablists mixing and resampling Monk’s music live as lifted from the two recent, highly acclaimed Volume 1 & 2 recordings John Beasley Presents MONK’estra, a local ensemble led by the arranger/pianist.  

Beasley, the program’s artistic director, is a passionate proponent for the music of Monk and was very excited about curating an evening that would duly honor his adventurous creative nature. “I can never repeat what’s already been done,” he insists. “So, this night is going to be totally twisted up! My favorite albums of Monk material by other artists are Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band’s Rumba Para Monk (Sunnyside – 1989) and Carmen McRae’s Carmen Sings Monk (Novus/RCA – 1990). I decided to do a mashup of both by getting Dee Dee Bridgewater to sing some Monk tunes, Afro-Cuban style.”

Dee Dee Bridgewater
Dee Dee Bridgewater will "sing some Monk tunes, Afro-Cuban style."

The second half of the program envisions Monk embracing today’s cutting-edge creativity when it comes to DJ culture, electronics and the art of sampling. Beasley continues, “They’re going to resample Monk via MONK’estra. Four multi-genre mavericks renowned for convention-defying exploits will come together to pay homage to Monk: turntablist/producer DJ Logic, keyboardist/producer Mark de Clive-Lowe, new wave-experimental drummer/producer Deantoni Parks and Steve Lehman (a state-of-the-art musical thinker).”

Mark de Clive-Lowe
Keyboardist/producer Mark de Clive-Lowe will resample Monk.

The Monk Centennial Celebration promises to be another of the Ford Theatres’ most forward-thinking presentations of the year. And it has been a cornerstone venue for the annual Angel City Jazz Festival, which has been growing as a festival for the outer reaches of jazz and instrumental music in LA. 

“The mandate of the whole Angel City Jazz Festival (per Artistic Director Rocco Sommazi and Director Rob Woodworth) has always been Avant-garde, stretchy and experimental - a much needed arts festival made especially for Los Angeles. To experience this music under the stars at the newly remodeled Ford Theatres is going to be amazing!”

- By A. Scott Galloway

Angel City Jazz Festival - Monk Centennial Celebration takes place on Sunday, October 1 at 6:00 PM. Tickets and info here.