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John Beasley’s MONK’estra Reinvents Thelonious Monk for the 21st Century [LA Weekly]

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While his contemporaries chased the past glories of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the Horace Silver Quintet, Beasley was playing piano in the short-lived band Thelonious, the Los Angeles Monk repertory outfit co-led by veteran bassist Buell Neidlinger and emerging tenor sax master Marty Krystall. But unlike the jacket-and-tie-clad bebop revivalistis, Beasley wasn’t learning Monk’s greatest hits from his father’s Blue Note albums. The Thelonious band vibrantly dug into deeper titles in the Monk canon with contemporary zeal.

At 18 and 19, Beasley also worked with Monk’s 1960s bassist Larry Gales, who made his home in L.A. Gales passed along an appropriately opaque bit of Monkian wisdom to the young pianist: “Kid, ya gotta learn how to breathe when ya play.”

You couldn’t mistake the Thelonious version of “Little Rootie Tootie,” with Peter Erskine’s peppery eighth-note drum propulsion and Krystall’s upper register multiphonics, for the dusty museum pieces routinely rendered on jazz festival stages. And Beasley has carried that spirit with him all these years.

“With Buell,” the 55-year old Beasley recalls, “I had to learn a bunch of Monk tunes all at once. And they were all hard to play.”

Though most of the Monk numbers had been composed in the ‘40s and ‘50s, their idiosyncrasies made them avant-garde to Beasley. "I was listening to Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter’s modal stuff,” he recalls, “but this was pre-modal jazz. The challenges were not only harmonic, but rhythmic too.”


Read the full piece from: LA Weekly

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