Producer: Teo Macero.
Compilation producer: Didier C. Deutsch.
Recorded between 1962 & 1968. Includes liner notes by James Isaacs.
Personnel: Thelonious Monk (piano); Howard Roberts (guitar); Pee Wee Russell (clarinet); Charlie Rouse (saxophone, tenor saxophone); Ernie Watts, Gene Cipriano, Ernie Small, Thomas Scott (saxophone); Conte Candoli, Fred Hill, Bob Brookmeyer (trumpet); Billy Byers, Michael Wimberly (trombone); Ben Riley, Frankie Dunlop (drums); John Guerin (percussion).
Liner Note Author: James Isaacs.
Recording information: Brandeis University, Waltham, MA (11/06/1962-11/20/1968); It Club, Los Angeles, CA (11/06/1962-11/20/1968); Jazz Workshop, San Francisco, CA (11/06/1962-11/20/1968); Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, RI (11/06/1962-11/20/1968); Sankei Hall, Tokyo, Japan (11/06/1962-11/20/1968).
Calling an album "The Essential Thelonious Monk" is a bit misleading, especially since all the material comes from one label: Columbia. Nonetheless, this may arguably be the essential Thelonious Monk material on the label. There are 11 selections here, all recorded between 1962-1968, the period of Monk's tenure with the label. Produced for reissues by the estimable Didier C. Deutsch, Monk's essentials include recordings from all of his settings with the label: solo (the album opens with the stunning rendition of "'Round Midnight" from the Monk Alone album), followed by a live quartet outing of "Bemsha Swing" and a "Blue Monk" from the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival featuring Pee Wee Russell on clarinet. Also included are the various rhythm sections Monk employed, beginning with Charlie Rouse. There's "Rhythm-A-Ning" with John Ore and Frankie Dunlop, "Blue Monk" with Butch Warren and Dunlop, and Larry Gales and Ben Riley on "Misterioso," "Epistrophy," "Straight No Chaser," and "Well You Needn't." Monk's big band is also represented here on "Brilliant Corners," whose members included Conte Candoli, Bob Brookmeyer, Ernie Watts, and Michael Wimberly. In all, the collection is solid in that it features top-notch, unique readings of many of Monk's classic tunes. And, as some have argued, Monk's Columbia period has been underestimated and overlooked; if this is true, these may indeed be the "essential" performances. It hardly matters, though; all of this material -- originally produced by Teo Macero -- is for beginners, a great place to start a Monk collection with its brilliant selection and stellar sound. ~ Thom Jurek