Thelonious Monk Festival Jazz@Lincoln Center - New York City Article
Thelonious Monk Festival
Jazz at Lincoln Center (all three venues)
Broadway at 60th Street, 5th Floor, (212) 721 6500
Thursday (June 1) through Sunday (June 4)
The music and innovations of Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) would be worth celebrating in any season, and especially so in his centennial year. Considering that Monk was such an unconventional figure, in both the content of his compositions and the overall arch of his career, it’s only fitting that this multipart celebration should take unexpected forms with a wide range of different ensembles.
The centerpiece of the four-day festival is the big concert in the big hall (Rose Theater), in which Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra play new big band arrangements. Playing Monk’s music in orchestral format is always a dodgy proposition, and the composer himself only rarely worked in that form. But if done right, and the melodies are orchestrated by arranger-musicians who understand the complex nuances of Monk’s melodies, including what Kevin Whitehead described as his unexpected “trapdoor silences,” the results can be amazing. That the JALCO is adding two special international guests, flautist Baqir Abbas (of the Pakistani Sachal Jazz Ensemble) and Brazilian bandolim virtuoso Hamilton de Holanda is a positive sign that they’re planning to recast some of Monk’s music in the light of world music. (Thursday-Saturday)
The side events, however, are hardly secondary. In the Appel Room, two very young piano giants, Sullivan Fortner and the even younger Joey Alexander, are offering their own highly personal interpretations of iconic Thelonian masterpieces. In Dizzy’s there are Monk-centric sets by guitarist Gabe Schnider and bassist Russell Hall. Since Monk only wrote 70 or so known compositions - his influence on the subsequent history of jazz might seem to be in inverse ratio to his productivity - this extended festival should be able to do the unique Thelonious justice and cover nearly all of them.
Author: Will Friedwald
Will Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, VANITY FAIR and PLAYBOY magazine and reviews current shows for THE CITIVIEW NEW YORK. He also is the author of nine books, including the award-winning A BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE TO THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP SINGERS, SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU, STARDUST MELODIES, TONY BENNETT: THE GOOD LIFE, LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES, and JAZZ SINGING. He has written over 600 liner notes for compact discs, received ten Grammy nominations, and appears frequently on television and other documentaries. He is also a consultant and curator for Apple Music.
SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU - NEW REVISED EDITION (Chicago Review Press, May 2018)