Monk’s Music was recorded in 1957 by the Thelonious Monk Septet and featured the talents of established artists Coleman Hawkins and Art Blakely, who were mentioned on the album’s cover. John Coltrane also plays on the album and was on the verge of reaching the status of these other men in the world of jazz.
Considered alongside Ellington as one of the great jazz composers, Monk uses this album to provide new treatments to some of his classics by expanding them and adding horns. It serves as a perfect introduction to Monk for the newcomer and the Monk fan will enjoy the new interpretations.
The album has a wonderful structure to it. Starting strong and vibrant and then slowing down and unwinding. Placed in a different order, the tracks would not have blended as well together. It begins with a bit of a fanfare in the opening track, the 19th–century hymn “Abide with Me,” which is played by the horn section. It has a ceremonial feeling, welcoming you and announcing that something special is about to take place.
That something special would be the fantastic version of “Well, You Needn’t.” Every band member is given an opportunity to solo, which is unusual for Monk’s recorded work, but was common in live appearances. The track is over 11 minutes long and the music is so good it makes you beg for more. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard this version before. Hawkins is featured on “Ruby, My Dear,” a track Monk felt was in sync with Hawkins’ style. The album closes with the piece “Crepuscle with Nellie,” a track for his wife. The band sounds as if they are exhausted and it is a very relaxing piece. It slowly fades away and is a great piece to end the album with.
The original liner notes are by the album’s producer. We learn about the musicians, Monk’s standing in the jazz world at the time and the selections on the disc. Monk has had such an influence on musicians that it is hard to imagine his music having trouble being accepted by critics and the public. Of course, the musicians got it right away, which explains why Monk worked with the best. The section about the album’s music provides background on the pieces and is very helpful by detailing the order of the solos.
While it would be fine at parties, to truly appreciate the music and the talent behind it, you should give it your full attention. Remove all distractions, sit back and listen.