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A Fireside Chat With Grachan Moncur III

AAJ Staff By

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GM: Isn't that something? And so when Jackie called me that night, he said Tony said I was in town and that he had a couple of concerts and some club dates and a possible recording. He wanted to start rehearsing and see what we could put together. So I said, "Sounds good." Then I told him that I had been shedding with this new cat named Bobby and he was interested by new enthusiasm for Bobby and so he said, "OK, give me Bobby's number," and so I gave him Bobby's number and he got us all together and made a rehearsal.

FJ: And that became One Step Beyond. Destiny.

GM: That was it. It is funny, Fred. That whole summer, I had taken that whole summer off, mainly because I had some problems with my ear. I had been working with Ray and we had a private plane and we used to fly all the time. My ears became plugged and so I wanted to take care of that. I had put in my resignation with Ray, not because I didn't dig the band or I thought I was so much ready to split, it was just that I had a burning desire to really get to New York and try to get down with a smaller group because working with a big band is nothing compared to working in a small group. So what I did was I didn't even concentrate on working that summer. I just lived off a little bread that I had made that year and just shedded. I just shedded on studying Monk's tunes. I didn't have a piano. I didn't really do that to learn his repertoire to play it. I was just doing it to analyze his music. I just wanted to get the sound of his music inside of my body. Between shedding on Monk's stuff and then I started writing on my own and this particular night, I had been listening to a lot of television and science fiction sounds and all that kind of stuff. This particular night, I would say about two hours before Jackie called, I wrote both, "Frankenstein" first and then "Ghost Town." I think I told Jackie that I just got done writing something and told him what the tunes were and he said to bring them. Dig, Fred. When we started rehearsing, we got so excited. We had about five tunes. We had five originals. It was three of mine, "Frankenstein," "Ghost Town," and "Sonny's Back" and Jackie had "Little Melonae" and "Saturday and Sunday." Besides that, we played standards. For the most part, regardless of what we played, "Frankenstein," "Ghost Town," and "Saturday and Sunday" were such odd tunes to us and to the audience and we played them every set. In other words, in between everything else that we played, we played those tunes too. We didn't have that much in our book. We played some standards like "Smile" and really hip things we did outside of that to break up the thing, but once we played "Ghost Town" or "Frankenstein," that became a show. That was like a show within itself because the music was so strange and we were stretching on it, Fred. We were playing hard and we were playing them to get everything we could get out of it. We just felt the enthusiasm. We didn't know what was going to happen, but we liked what we were doing and we played like we liked it and we liked each other and what everybody was contributing.

FJ: You mentioned poring over Monk. Did your studies lead to "Monk in Wonderland" (Evolution)?

GM: Ah, I wouldn't think so. I would say that the studying of Monk probably led to everything. I think it probably led to my whole compositional outgrowth because that's when everything started happening. After I did that study, I did the studying of Monk for six weeks or maybe two months and then I put that down and just started writing stuff and practicing and writing and writing. There were things that I started to write that I didn't finish, but those two tunes I actually finished that night, but they were things that I began to write. I was trying to look at writing at that point the way a painter would paint. You put your thing on the easel and you sketch something and you come back to it the next day or a couple of days. That's how I was trying to think musically. I wasn't trying to finish anything. I still don't do that. I don't try to write anything that I consider a complete piece, especially now. It is always a work in progress. I don't change anything, but I add.

FJ: And One Step Beyond led to your own date, Evolution.

GM: I think it was One Step Beyond or Destination Out ! I forgot the order in which we did the dates. I forgot whether it was Destination Out! or, it probably did. One Step Beyond probably did lead to my first date.

FJ: The crew mirrored the One Step Beyond sessions.

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