All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Megaphone

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


Monk's Music and the Guitar

Bobby Broom By

Sign in to view read count
As a guitarist whose love for jazz music began in the '70s, I was understandably excited to hear a few months ago, from a most reliable source, that Thelonious Monk really dug guitarist George Benson! Benson was probably the most popular jazz guitarist of the '70s and those who know about the place of the guitar in jazz history understand that he stands among the elite few of all time. Apparently, Monk was attracted to the same thing that a lot of other jazz fans were hearing: a great musician and guitarist.

This exciting information came from my friend and mentor Paul Jeffrey—saxophonist, educator and Monk band member and close associate during the '70s. According to Paul, Monk also adored Charlie Christian (one of the first jazz guitar legends) and expressed a particular fondness for the personal touch in his guitar sound. Of course, my next question was "What about Wes Montgomery?" For this Paul didn't have any anecdotes, but there is a logical assumption here that I'm gonna go with...

There is the misconception by some in jazz that piano and guitar don't get along and have difficulty coexisting. I have never been one to think this because I grew up listening to Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio. Then there's Oscar Peterson with Joe Pass or Herb Ellis; Grant Green and Sonny Clark; Pat Martino and Gil Goldstein; the Nat "King" Cole Trio with Oscar Moore; Benny Green and Russell Malone; Brad Mehldau and Peter Bernstein and on and on... So, there really doesn't seem to be a shortage of mutual admiration between pianists and guitarists. Recorded examples of the above combos and others show that the two instruments work best together when both players are sensitive and willing to listen to one another, share the stage and respectfully leave space for the other's harmonic ideas either as soloists or accompanists.

Unfortunately, there are just a few recordings of Monk actually playing with a guitarist, most notably with none other than Charlie Christian in bootlegged recordings from jam sessions that happened at Minton's Playhouse in 1941 (also present there were Dizzy Gillespie, Don Byas and Kenny Clarke). Likewise, there have not been many records by guitarists playing the music of Monk as far as I know. (Peter Bernstein's recent release Monk is one.)

Getting the information about Monk's fondness for guitar players, while in the process of recording my latest, Plays for Monk (Origin), was the perfect incentive for me. Just before the trio's first rehearsal for the date, I still had questions about the idea of doing Monk's music: Would it come across as a natural fit for me, my style of jazz guitar and my trio's playing style? I really wasn't interested in focusing on the idiosyncrasies of Monk's playing style as a soloist—his off-kilter rhythmic, melodic and harmonic approach—but rather on the value of his compositions, which are already innately imbued with those 'Monkisms.' I had done the requisite work of weeding through his tunes to see which ones had the right sound for me, for my group and my guitar. (Although, regrettably, I missed his tune "Light Blue," which I didn't realize until too late. For me, that one contains the essence of Monk's harmonic irony, playfulness and mischief and it sounds great on the guitar.) What was most important to me in playing his material, though, was the natural, overall spirit of jazz in everything that Monk did and that's what I wanted to connect with and try to capture.

Technically speaking, there is the inherent issue of transference to a guitar focus when playing music that is associated with a piano voice as the lead. We're used to hearing it played on the instrument whose capabilities were available to Monk for his exploration and exploitation. Some of those 'isms,' like voicings containing dissonances (minor 2nds and clusters), would have to be pared down to meet the physical restrictions of the guitar with its limited number of strings and fret configuration. But with proper investigation, there are certainly ways to achieve the essence of a Monk voicing, even by using two or three notes.

Certain other distinctive characteristics of Monk's musical style are already written into his compositions, like the jagged rhythms in the melody of "Evidence" or "Work"'s sinewy, knuckle-busting lines. These technical challenges simply require study, work and practice. Just as a jazz student needs to learn and memorize every recorded phrase, note for note, that they want to assimilate, I had to do the same with Monk's melodies. There is no room for error and no relying on someone else's transcription. It's potentially dangerous to trust another's ears and/or rhythmic interpretation.


comments powered by Disqus

Call Me a Cab

Call Me a Cab

Bobby Broom
Upper West Side Story

Blues For Modern Man

Blues For Modern Man

Bobby Broom
Song and Dance

CD/LP/Track Review
CD/LP/Track Review
CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles
My Shining Hour

My Shining Hour

Origin Records

Upper Westside Story

Upper Westside Story

Origin Records

Plays for Monk

Plays for Monk

Origin Records

The Way I Play

The Way I Play

Origin Records


Related Articles

Read The Creative Music Studio Goes To College! Megaphone
The Creative Music Studio Goes To College!
by Karl Berger
Published: September 10, 2015
Read Wein, June & Jazz Megaphone
Wein, June & Jazz
by AAJ Staff
Published: June 13, 2010
Read Clean Feed Records: Looking Outwards Megaphone
Clean Feed Records: Looking Outwards
by Pedro Costa
Published: May 16, 2010
Read Discoveries Along The Pitch Continuum Megaphone
Discoveries Along The Pitch Continuum
by Amir ElSaffar
Published: April 11, 2010
Read Either/Or (No More) Megaphone
Either/Or (No More)
by Darcy James Argue
Published: February 28, 2010
Read The Power in Music Megaphone
The Power in Music
by Steve Colson
Published: February 3, 2010
Read "Jazz, Suffering, and Meaning" What is Jazz? Jazz, Suffering, and Meaning
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: November 23, 2017
Read "Audioguide: Hugh Masekela Mix" Mixcloud Audioguide: Hugh Masekela Mix
by Emily Jones
Published: February 16, 2018
Read "All That's Jazz" Book Reviews All That's Jazz
by Phil Barnes
Published: December 6, 2017
Read "Jay Phelps at the Harrow Arts Centre" Live Reviews Jay Phelps at the Harrow Arts Centre
by Barry Witherden
Published: July 25, 2017
Read "Tomas Fujiwara: The More the Better" Interviews Tomas Fujiwara: The More the Better
by Troy Dostert
Published: November 6, 2017