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Monk's Trumpets

Matt Lavelle By

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None of the trumpet players that worked for Monk reached as deep an immersion level as Thad Jones (1923-1986). Thad hailed from the famous jazz family in Detroit with his older brother, pianist Hank Jones, and younger brother, drummer Elvin Jones. He became famous with the Count Basie Orchestra as a featured soloist and arranger where he worked from 1954-1963. During this period, Jones recorded as a leader on trumpet for Charles Mingus' Debut label in 1954 and Blue Note in 1956. In 1959, Orrin Keepnews from Riverside records and Monk agreed to add thirty-six year old Thad to Monk's group, with exciting results. In Robin Kelly's book on Monk, Monk is quoted as saying Jones was a better trumpet player than Miles Davis. The record, titled Five by Monk by Five, features Jones extensively as well as tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse. Known to switch between trumpet, flugelhorn, and cornet, Jones brought his cornet where his crisp, burnished, crackling and fat tone brought out a personality in Monk's music unlike anything in Monk's other recorded work. Throughout the date, Jones becomes the leading melodic voice. During Jones's solos, Monk often starts comping, and then leaves Jones in a trio format. Monk does this to trumpet players quite often. On "I Mean You," Jones has a second solo in trio format where he slowly adds and builds into a display of his power from his big band work. The solo is a masterpiece of tension and release as if arranged for a large ensemble. On ":Ask Me Now," Jones's melodic lead voice on a Monk ballad is another prominent feature. Throughout the recording, Jones maintains his identity while successfully navigating Monk's compositions, all without being compelled to outline each chord change. In 1963, forty year old Jones was hired and featured in a Monk led big band in a live concert at Lincoln Center. This performance is the quintessential moment for Monk in his relationship with the trumpet, again with Jones on cornet. Jones plays so much he could have received featured billing. On the opening piece "Bye-ya," after a one minute statement of the melody, Jones plays the first solo of the concert, lasting a full three minutes. Halfway through Monk lays out giving Jones a trio format, where Jones's lyricism is only enhanced, as he is in total control. On the following piece, "I Mean You," after a one minute statement of the melody, it is Jones again with a lead off solo lasting three minutes. This time Jones has an orchestrated big band background to play over where he sounds especially comfortable, and it's seen that the band's rehearsal time paid off. Monk comps for a chorus and again leaves Jones in a trio formation where he is able to convey the melody. Jones solos again on "Evidence" showing how though improvised, his solos can be seen as complete arrangements after he plays them. He uses contrasts in volume and tempo in sections to great effect. On Monk's response to modal playing titled "Oska T.," Jones demonstrates the power of playing this way at a simmering tempo rather than a boil. Essentially a vamp in A-flat concert, Jones serves up a clinic on brass technique with a no-pressure delivery. The environment enables Jones to sift through his style to his center where he has a song that he sings that is the underlying foundation of all of his work, his core lyricism being revealed. On "Four In One," after a one-minute arrangement of the theme, Jones again takes the lead solo. He plays in a way where his tone leads the notes, even while playing fast. Here he utilizes the difficult melodic material. Jones constructs lines that are clear, concise, and precise while using chord extensions very effectively. Jones is revealed to be the most successful brass player to work with Monk by swinging and using the melody while improvising creative new ideas in his voice. You can hear the chord changes, but he is never restrained by them. In 1965 Jones formed a very successful big band with drummer Mel Lewis. In 1978 Jones moved to Denmark and led a big band called Eclipse from 1979-1984. He returned to the United States to lead the Basie orchestra in 1985, but ill health had him return to Copenhagen where he died from Cancer in 1986 at 63 years old. Two records that Jones played on as a sideman to incredible effect are The Hawk Swings with Coleman Hawkins and Ca'Purange with Dexter Gordon.


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