Corea Plays Monk - Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra - New York City Article
“Corea Plays Monk”: Chick Corea with The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, artistic director, Wynton Marsalis.
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall
Broadway at 60th Street, 5th Floor, (212) 721 6500
Thursday (April 5) through Saturday (April 7)
In part of his opening introduction on Thursday evening, Wynton Marsalis informed the packed house at Rose Hall that “Four In One,” a 1951 Thelonious Monk classic, was so named because the melody has four notes to a single beat. But there’s a conflicting story about that title, namely that both the song and the title are derived from the 1925 pop song “Has Anybody Seen My Gal (Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue”). Using that as a springboard, let me announce my own interpretation of the title, namely that there are at least four reasons to make this landmark concert at JALC:  the superstar pianist and NEA jazz master Chick Corea, one of the most justifiably celebrated musicians working today;  Wynton Marsalis, more than a consistently brilliant trumpet soloist, but a true presence both within and without the orchestra;  the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, both for its players and the enmassed talents of such arranger-soloists as trombonists Christopher Crenshaw and Vincent Gardner, and saxophonists Sherman Irby and Ted Nash. And  the compositions of Thelonious Monk, an unending source of inspiration for musicians over the last seven decades.
JALC has given all-Monk concerts before, both with the full orchestra and in other combinations, but this is the overall most triumphant that I can recall. When Monk made his classic album, Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington in 1955, the end results were much more Monk than Duke. Yet Monk’s own interpreters are not given that degree of freedom - what’s the point of playing Monk’s music so that it doesn’t sound like Monk? Thankfully Mr. Corea and the JALC roster of arranger-players find ways to be creative with the music without making it sound like someone else wrote it. On certain charts, like “Think of One,” the orchestra plays the familiar melodies and Mr. Corea was merely one of several soloists, on others (like “Trinkle Tinkle”), Mr. Corea played the central tune and the orchestra then played its own variations. Still others were a combination of both approaches; on “Hackensack,” Mr. Corea played the intro and then the ensemble took the central melody - and Mr. Corea returned for an extended, unaccompanied solo in the middle. Particularly compelling were Vincent Gardner’s exotic setting for “Light Blue” which made use of a highly original combination of flutes and mutes (muted trumpets that is), and Mr. Corea’s own arrangement of “Work,” one of Monk’s thornier compositions, a piece where the melody is harder to find than usual. In fact, that’s what makes a concept like this so very doable: back in the day. the mantra for most modern jazz was “where’s the melody?,” but with Monk’s music, one rarely, if ever, has to ask.
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)