Monk@Durham Day 7

Most of Thelonious Monk’s records and gigs were with a quartet made up of tenor saxophone and rhythm. Monk’s music still makes the most natural sense in this configuration. For Monk@100 at Duke Performances, Melissa Aldana kicked off the first of four concerts featuring a tenor saxophone star (or two) with a house trio.

As soon as the Bad Plus broke through to our astonishing success all those years ago I began pursuing relationships with an older generation of swinging jazz musicians. It was not enough to be the newest, hippest thing, I also wanted to attempt to become as grounded as possible. These kind of “historical” studies also aligned with my interest in writing about the music.

David Williams and Victor Lewis are the latest to fall into my clutches. Neither played with Thelonious Monk but they’ve played with just about everybody else, including most of Monk’s tenor saxophonists: Sonny Rollins, Johnny Griffin, Charlie Rouse, Paul Jeffrey.

For 33 or 34 years David Williams was with Cedar Walton. That’s about as close to playing with Monk as you are going to get. (Walton even subbed for Monk at the Five Spot.) One of Victor Lewis’s first long associations was Woody Shaw, a modernist composer who influenced the 70’s just like Monk influenced the 50’s.

There’s not much good written language to describe straight-ahead jazz mastery, especially in the bass and drums. I’ve been trying to work on this on DTM for about 15 years with mixed results. But if you know it, you know it. And David and Victor have it.

Melissa Aldana is the youngest of our tenors. She is from Chile, which is not known for its jazz culture, but her father had the records and by the time she was just barely in her double digits she was already a Sonny Rollins fanatic. She told me she loves to transcribe, not just lines, but also the sounds. Among many other things she brought to the table was a version of Rouse’s outrageous note choices on “Wee See.”

Set 1

Let’s Call This
Ugly Beauty
Gallop’s Gallop
Friday the 13th
Ask Me Now
I Mean You
Blue Monk

Set 2

Four in One
We See
Monk’s Dream
‘Round Midnight
52 St. Theme

Notable events: Victor’s march on “Friday the 13th,” Melissa’s virtuosic cadenza on “Ask me Now,” David’s feature on “‘Round Midnight.”

“Skippy” was interesting. Victor and I played a duo for a while (I joked it wasn’t Harlem Stride, but sadly only Northern Wisconsin Stride) and then Melissa tore the hard changes to shreds. For “52 St. Theme” Victor brought the calypso and Melissa responded in kind.

Houston Person, Victor Lewis, and David Williams meeting at the hotel:


David, Victor, Melissa at soundcheck.



Concert photos by John Rogers:

band w Mmelissa