Monkadelphia: At the Deerhead Inn
Sometimes great jazz is well-planned, as, for example Thelonius Monk's acclaimed tours of Europe or hot jazz festivals such as Monterrey, Newport, or the Mellon Jazz Festival. At other times it is the result of the serendipitous conjunction of a perfect combination of ingredients: the right musicians, the right idea, the right time and place. Such a happening occurred on the night of July 12, 1998 at the Deerhead Inn at Delaware Water Gap, a club where beautiful jazz experiences erupt like wildflowers in a spring meadow. Tony Miceli, the vibraphonist in a spirited new group called Monkadelphia, had asked Tony Marino, bassist with the David Liebman Group, if he'd like to join them in an evening of music-making. Tony did one better-he booked the group at the delightful Deerhead Inn and brought along the one and only Dave Liebman himself, jazz saxaphonist, icon, and mentor, high on the heels of his new album, "The Return of the Tenor." Some of the cognoscenti of the jazz worlds of Warren county and Philadelphia came out to hear what these guys could do, and the result was an intense, creative, alive evening of jazz music-making with an attentive, involved audience, and- bless us- no side conversations or rattling of cocktail glasses. Oh, the joys of music on a summer night!
For those who don't know, the Deerhead Inn is a club that has been around for about forty years. Nestled in the laconic town of Delaware Water Gap (which you could easily drive through and not notice- in fact I did!) it has been host to live performances and recording dates of both the aspiring and the acknowledged great in the world of jazz. Keith Jarrett has performed and recorded there (cf. his recording, "At the Deerhead Inn"). The legendary John Coates was the "house" pianist for a number of years, and recently Dave Leonhardt has been holding forth there in the same role. (The food, by the way, and the acoustics are among the best of any jazz club I've been to.) Across Main Street (Route 611) on a street named Waring Drive is a plaque dedicated to Fred Waring, the famed band leader, who resided nearby forever it seemed, and another which tells us that John Philip Sousa performed on that spot at the Castle Inn in 1902. Down the block is the location of the Poconos Jazz Festival, a heralded yearly event held every September, bringing together the finest musicians from the Poconos and around the world.
The idiosyncratic yet universal melodies, chordal structures, and angular rhythm developed by Thelonius Monk, Sr. are undergoing a revival today, with current performers and groups using his work as a springboard for their own music-making, led in part by his son's renewed interest in his music. It has been said that Monk's playing harks back to that of Jelly Roll Morton. Certainly, one can hear in Monk the heavy laying on of hands and holding off the beat characteristic of Morton's style. One always feels as if Monk is playing an upright piano even when he is not! At the same time, Monk is thoroughly "progressive," totally in synch with modern jazz. There is no artificial nostalgia in his music. In the end, we are forced to conclude that this was the way Monk HEARD the music, and what makes for its greatness is that this unique way of hearing is convincingly ahead of our own and taps a universal experience to which we find ourselves wanting to reach. Monk's style is striking in that it at first sounds very dissonant and his "beat" out of synch. Then, remarkably- almost mystically if you are into the spiritual dimension of music- the dissonance always resolves into the classic blues chord structure, and the "out of synch" beats always relate in an orderly fashion to the swing and bebop styles with which they initially appear to clash. Listening to his recordings, one feels as if Monk goes out to the edge of the tune, but never goes over the edge. There is a metaphysical sense generated by Monk's playing because it is as if he hears another reality within the original structure of the music. And nobody- absolutely nobody- can play the way Monk played! What can be done is to use his work as an inspiration idea-base for going forth into ones own realms of music making. And that is precisely what Monkadelphia does so well.
Monkadelphia - in case you didn't know, and you probably and unfortunately didn't- is a Philadelphia-based group of musicians who have come together with the expressed purpose of making Monk's music current. The "regulars" include Tony Miceli, vibraphone, Tom Lawton, piano, Jim Miller, drums, Chris Farr, sax, and Micah Jones, bass. For this gig, Tony, Tom, and Jim teamed up with Dave Liebman and Tony Marino for a special performance. John Swana, trumpet and flugelhorn, had planned to join the group, but his wife had a baby the night before! Congratulations, John! Our loss was your gain!