In 1968, the sixteen-year-old Danny Scher invited Thelonious Monk and his quartet to play a benefit concert at his high school in Palo Alto, California. The concert got recorded and now, more than 50 years later, the music was released. Palo Alto is a live recorded concert featuring Charlie Rouse on the tenor saxophone, Larry Gales on the bass, Ben Riley behind the drums, and composer Thelonious Sphere Monk on the piano.
When jazz drummer T.S. Monk was contacted regarding an old concert recording, he was amazed by his father’s performance and the background story behind the session. Danny Scher, sixteen at the time, organized benefit concerts to raise money for the Peace Corps and construction projects in Kenya and Peru. Although many people did not believe it would actually happen, he successfully hosted a concert with the jazz titan, Thelonious Monk.
T.S. Monk, knowing most of his father’s live recordings, understood how unique this recording was and how it contributes to the legacy of Thelonious Monk. In cooperation with the label Impulse Records, he released the album in September 2020.
In an interview with Brad Baker from jazz.fm91, T.S. Monk highlights that his father was mainly known as a live artist. Especially before being placed on the cover of Time Magazine in 1964, and the wider public was introduced to his music, Monk’s recording career was unstable. Unlike Miles Davis or John Coltrane who spent their careers with major labels, Monk didn’t rely on his recordings, the people who remember Monk will refer to his live sessions instead.
T.S. Monk claims that the recording at the Palo Alto high school is the best recording made during his father’s career. “The way he plays, not knowing he was being recorded, was very rare,” he explains.
All of those elements that the world loves about Thelonious Monk are present in this recording.T.S. Monk (Thelonious Monk’s son)
“Danny Scher caught him on an exceptionally good day, and all of those elements that the world loves about Thelonious Monk are present in this recording”, T.S. Monk said, “his ability to work with time and shift and displace various phrases, the swing that all of his bands always had, the unique harmonics and melodic figures that he played… it’s just all there. It’s pure Monk, and it’s wonderful.“
You can listen to the full interview with T.S. Monk here:
The quality of the recording is exceptionally good for its age, but it has limitations. It does, however, capture astonishing details you rarely receive when listening to a studio recording. During Monk’s original composition “Well, You Needn’t” you can hear Larry Gale singing along during his bass solo. In piano-exclusive parts, you can hear Monk tapping his foot. You hear the audience react to every interaction of the musicians. These minor details bring out the jazz and feeling of presence when listening to this dusty 50-year old recording.
The album on vinyl comes with a gatefold sleeve, a copy of the original program, a replica of the event poster, and a booklet including rare images of Monk and the band.
3 thoughts on “Thelonious Monk At His Best – Palo Alto”