This week, I had pleasure of welcoming John Beasley to KCRW’s studios to talk about his cool new project, Monk’estra Vol. 1, which celebrates the music of Thelonious Sphere Monk. Monk, like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, was a proto-beatnik. As house pianist at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem beginning in 1942, he helped launch the bebop revolution in modern jazz. Their take on music inspired beat poets like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti to launch a similar revolution in postwar American literature. Monk’s music, which talented jazz musicians love to play and listen to as well, can be dissonant, twisting, and offbeat.
Beasley–pianist, arranger, conductor–loves the challenges involved with re-imagining Monk’s difficult and often unwieldy classics. This is a big band record and a complex one, too. Monk’estra is impeccably performed and the recorded sound is pristine. We feature a number of Monk classics during this show: “Epistrophy,” “Skippy,” a very different version of the beautiful Monk ballad “‘Round Midnight,” and a harmonica version of “Ask Me Now.” These are some of the songs the Beasley-led orchestra performed to great acclaim at the 2016 Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl as well as the wonderful Blue Whale jazz club in Little Tokyo, which has become a downtown mecca for jazz music.
Beasley, whose father Rule taught music at Santa Monica College while his mother taught middle school music courses at John Adams Middle School, shows again that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. He is working steadily and on deadline for a volume 2. I love the first volume and look forward to the next one!