Thelonious Monk – Palo Alto (2020) [Official Digital Download 24bit/44,1kHz]

Thelonious Monk – Palo Alto (2020)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/44,1 kHz | Time – 47:23 minutes | 513 MB | Genre: Jazz
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Legacy Recordings

After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, racial tensions across the country rose. Palo Alto, a largely white college town in Cali, wasn’t immune. Danny Scher, a junior at the high school, had a dream to have Thelonious Monk perform and help bring about racial unity the community while raising funds for the International Committee. After many twists and turns, the triumphantly successful concert eventually happened. Now available on CD; Softpak w/ booklet & foldable poster.

In 2020, the release of a late-era Thelonious Monk live show recorded at a high school by a custodian may seem like, at best, a historical curio or, at worst, the very epitome of barrel-scraping. But from the first moments of this 45-minute set, it’s clear that this unique recording has far more going for it than its provenance or its rarity. But, to be sure, both the provenance and rarity of the recording are worth noting: In the heightened, revolution-ready atmosphere of 1968, a senior at an affluent and predominantly white high school bringing a jazz legend to campus seems like an absurd idea, but this senior was Danny Scher, and this wasn’t even the first jazz gig he booked at Palo Alto High (he brought in Cal Tjader during his junior year and would book Duke Ellington a few months after this Monk show). Scher would go on to work for more than two decades with concert promoter Bill Graham, but in 1968, he was a driven and passionate young jazz fan who didn’t take no for an answer. So, with Thelonious Monk booked for a two-week stand at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, Scher didn’t see why he couldn’t bring the iconic pianist into Palo Alto for a Sunday afternoon side gig at his high school. Monk, having recently released what would be his last Columbia album (Underground), was on the cusp of forced retirement due both to his struggles with mental illness and the generally waning relevance of bop-era jazz icons; at this point in his career, he wasn’t turning down a well-paying gig, regardless of the venue. With mthe rest of his quartet in tow, Monk put on a jubilant, tight, and joyous performance in a high school gym on a rainy Sunday afternoon. It’s a pretty standard Monk set for the time—just six songs, mostly Monk-penned stalwarts from ’40s and ’50s like “Epistrophy” and “Blue Monk,” as well as a brief and lovely solo piano take on “I Love You Sweetheart of All My Dreams”—but Monk and the quartet (saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist Larry Gales, and drummer Ben Riley) are in light spirit and great form throughout, full of energy and interplay. The quality of the recording— which, again, was made by the school’s custodian!—is excellent, with rich low end and a shining clarity showcasing the melodic conversations between Monk’s piano and Rouse’s tenor sax. The crowd noise is pretty low in the mix compared to many live recordings, and there are occasional moments of audible degradation due to the age of the tape, but overall, this is an incredible recording. The sound is clear, warm, immersive, and enveloping, right down to the audible squeaks of Monk’s piano bench, putting the listener right in the middle of a truly unique performance. – Jason Ferguson

1. Thelonious Monk – Ruby, My Dear (Live At Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, CA / 1968) (07:00)
2. Thelonious Monk – Well, You Needn’t (Live At Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, CA / 1968) (13:16)
3. Thelonious Monk – Don’t Blame Me (Live At Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, CA / 1968) (06:36)
4. Thelonious Monk – Blue Monk (Live At Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, CA / 1968) (14:01)
5. Thelonious Monk – Epistrophy (Live At Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, CA / 1968) (04:25)
6. Thelonious Monk – I Love You Sweetheart Of All My Dreams (Live At Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, CA / 1968) (02:02)


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