Tony Monaco and Don Hales: Tonymoon for Two

C. Michael Bailey By

Sign in to view read count
Organist Tony Monaco is Johannes Brahms to Jimmy Smith's Ludwig van Beethoven. He is the keeper of the flame, or, more appropriately, the bar keep of the chicken shack, and the ambassador of the chitlin' circuit. Over the past decade, Monaco has moved to the front of the class in organ jazz, releasing a string of critically acclaimed recordings. Monaco adds two more, one as leader and one as side man to guitarist Don Hales.

Tony Monaco

Live at the Orbit Room: The Ultimate Jam

Chicken Coup Records


Monaco headed north from his Midwestern home to Toronto to record a live disc with a Toronto-based rhythm section. Burned on June 22, 2007 at the Orbit Room in Toronto's Little Italy, Live at the Orbit Room: The Ultimate Jam is a recital of five standards with two additional radio edits. Monaco's local trio consists of Orbit Room regular Ted Quinlan, guitar and Vito Rezza, drums. This trio has a bit of a different temperament compared to Monaco's home trio in that they take the Orbit Room seriously, serving up an airy, centrifugal groove over which Monaco can establish his own orbit.

Monaco demonstrates his affinity for all things Jimmy Smith by serving up five lengthy performances, the shortest of which is "Someday My Prince Will Come," clocking in at a mere 9:01 minutes. The disc starts with Don Patterson's "S'bout Time." Monaco sets the groove with his feet, propelling the piece into full momentum, spurned on by Quinlan's taut lead lines. This is followed by a searing "Ode to Billie Joe," showcasing Ted Quinlan on fire. These first songs were edited down for radio airplay and are included on this disc.

The Kaye/Reid ballad standard "I'll Close My Eyes" dovetails into Frank Churchill's "Someday My Prince Will Come." This ballad pair allows Monaco to display his tonal colors with ample splendor. With characteristic flair, Monaco closes the set with Jimmy Smith's "Slow Down Sagg" from Jimmy Smith's Root Down (Verve, 1972). This is later Smith, deserving of attention and Monaco provides it creatively. Tony Monaco has firmly established himself as the traditional jazz organist of note, keeping the light of "The Preacher" alive.

Don Hales

Unified String Theory

Chicken Coup Records


Guitarist Don Hales is one of those jazz musicians almost too good to be true, one who has had a lengthy local career who finally bobs to the surface with a head-turning release. The disc is Unified String Theory and Tony Monaco's presence is no accident. Hales grew up in a Toledo neighborhood where he was exposed to a wide variety of ethnic and regional music. He taught himself to play guitar, was tutored by Rusty Bryant and Bobby Shaw. Hales went on to tour with the great Eddie Harris and Bill Doggett before returning home to Columbus to work in the Monaco family Italian Restaurant.

Talk about a well kept secret...Don Hales not only has chops, he is quite the funk master in composing. Six of the eight tunes presented are Hales originals. The two standards are "Feelings" and "Motivation," both dispatched with a Horace Silver soul-jazz sensibility. Hales' compositions all stretch the definition of the typical organ-guitar-tenor combo. Speaking of tenor, Kris Keith's tenor saxophone and flute fit into this quintet like a hand in a glove, a finely crafted glove. Check out "Breath of the Blues" and "Dance of the Zodiac."

The only other organ trio release that can compare with Unified String Theory is Bryan Beninghove's Organ Trio (Self published, 2008). Both recordings are fresh and heady as a precocious Beaujolais nouveau with twice the attitude and as much more the musicianship. Let's hope Hales continues to have a grand coming out.

Visit Don Hales on the Web.

Tracks and Personnel

Live at the Orbit Room: The Ultimate Jam

Tracks: S'bout Time; Ode to Billy Joe; I'll Close My Eyes; Someday My Prince Will Come; Slow Down Sagg; S'bout Time; Ode to Billy Joe.

Personnel: Tony Monaco: Hammond B-3; Ted Quinlan: guitar; Vito Rezza: drums.

Unified String Theory

Tracks: Strawberries - Raspberries; Seaweed Song (Tic-Tac-Toe); Motivation; Feelings; Dance of the Zodiac; Louie the Greek; Mighty Mouse; Breath of the Blues.

Personnel: Don Hales: guitar; Tony Monaco: organ; Andy Woodson: bass; Kris Keith: flute and tenor saxophone; Matt Wagner: drums.

Post a comment



Shop Amazon


All About Jazz needs your support

All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, shelter in place and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary effort that will help musicians now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the bottom right video ad). Thank you.

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.