Because a relatively small number of his breakthrough recordings - 33 selections, including alternate takes, as leader and sideman, in just over two years - were done for Prestige Records, Thelonious Monk's work for that small but distinguished independent label may have been given less than its due. And more's the pity, for many stand with any of Monk's best. Indeed, some are his very best. When, in late 1952, the brilliant pianist-composer (1917-1982) went into the studio for his first two Prestige sessions, he was still a cult figure, occupying a singular, but hardly enviable, position in jazz. His approach to the keyboard was widely viewed as "primitive" and his writing, while generally considered to have a certain off-kilter melodic interest, took more than a few too many previously unchartered harmonic liberties. But by the end of the Fifties, thanks in part to the words of some important critics on his behalf, people began to understand that Monk's music possessed an enduring, refractive beauty all its own. Of the 15 Monk originals in this set - all of which made their debut on Prestige - virtually every one has become part of the modern jazz canon. And whether encouraging the young Sonny Rollins, benefiting from the exceptional support of Percy Heath, Art Blakey (whose drumming is particularly brilliant), and Max Roach, backing an imposing figure like Coleman Hawkins (the four 1944 sides with the father of the tenor saxophone were Monk's first ever), or taking part in a timeless 1954 session with Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants, Monk wields a laser-like musical intelligence. Here, in a single box, are some of those thoughts that continue to resist pigeonholing, and have never stopped influencing the interwoven creative processes that are composition and improvisation.
JazzTimes - 11/00, p.76
"...Monk was incapable of making inferior records, which leaves the listener to choose between good, great, and overwhelming....Let's call this set about 15% good, 60% great and 25% overwhelming."
THE COMPLETE PRESTIGE RECORDINGS features sessions headed by Coleman Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Monk & Rollins and Miles Davis.
Personnel includes: Thelonious Monk (piano); Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Frank Foster (tenor saxophone); Miles Davis, Ray Copeland (trumpet);Julius Watkins (French horn); Milt Jackson (vibraphone); Gary Mapp, Tommy Potter, Edward "Bass" Robinson, Curly Russell (bass); Arthur Taylor, Denzil Best, Kenny Clarke, Willie Jones, Max Roach (drums).
Producers: Bob Weinstock, Walter "Foots" Thomas, Teacho Wiltshire, Ira Gitler.
Compilation producer: Eric Miller.
Recorded between 1952 and 1954. Includes liner notes by Peter Keepnews.
Digitally remastered using 20-bit K2 Super Coding technology.
Personnel: Thelonious Monk (piano); Coleman Hawkins, Frank Foster, Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); Miles Davis, Ray Copeland (trumpet); Julius Watkins (French horn); Denzil Best, Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Willie Jones (drums).
Liner Note Author: Peter Keepnews.
Recording information: Hackensack, NJ (10/19/1944-10/25/1954); New York, NY (10/19/1944-10/25/1954).
Photographers: Don Schlitten; Esmond Edwards; Chuck Stewart.
There isn't much from Thelonious Monk's pre-1960s catalogue that isn't worth listening to, and though the pianist/composer's tenure at Prestige was fairly short-lived (1952-1954), and the output is less essential than either his Blue Note recordings or his definitive work for Riverside, this music is still outstanding. Disc One's first four tracks actually date back to 1944, when Monk made his first Prestige appearance as a sideman for Coleman Hawkins. From here the timeline jumps to sessions from '52-'53 that feature Monk in various ensemble configurations including quartets, quintets, and trios.
Top-drawer players--including bassist Percy Heath, tenor man Sonny Rollins, and drummers Max Roach and Art Blakey--appear on these dates, with the bold push-and-pull between Monk and Rollins making the biggest impression. Disc Three focuses on the one session that ever found Monk and trumpet legend Miles Davis sharing a studio (due to personal and aesthetic differences the two subsequently steered clear of each other), with excellent and sensitive playing all around. At three discs, THE COMPLETE PRESTIGE RECORDINGS might seem skimpy compared to other "complete" sets, but the size makes the listening quite manageable, and the caliber of the playing is consistently high throughout.