Friday, February 24, 2017

Yes, You Like Jazz, #4: Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning"


One of the coolest things about Monk is that even though he composed only about 70 or 80 songs, 30 or 40 (OK, maybe "just" 20 to 30) of them are jazz standards. What a batting average! I would guess that the only jazz performer who composed more standards is Duke Ellington (often collaborating with Billy Strayhorn). In third place we might find Wayne Shorter. In Monk's songs, as in his playing, rhythm and melody are completely fused. They are unitary, like elegantly carved sculptures. The tunes are hummable, but they are just weird enough to inspire creative improvisation. And the figures that make up the components of each song are ripe for variations. Musicians love to solo on Monk tunes, no doubt. Indeed, the melodies function as launching pads.

I chose this version in part because of the great illustrated portrait. I like how the shirt and jacket are just bare outlines, while the head is realistic. After choosing it, I then noticed that "Rhythm" is misspelled in the title, but that's OK. First of all, I can't spell it without having to look -- every single time. Also Monk's aesthetic features things being just a bit "off." A popular apocryphal jazz-world story about Monk tells us that there was a picture hanging crooked on Monk's wall, and that every time Monk's wife straightened it, Monk would go over and make it crooked again.

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