John Beasley: reimagining Monk

John Beasley pic

John Beasley

The music of Thelonious Monk has been a source of endless fascination and with good reason. Monk’s universe has its own laws. Beautifully constructed and quirky, soulful but also paced by brushstrokes of humor, his music seems open to an endless variety of readings.

In his MONK’estra project, pianist, conductor and arranger John Beasley, whose long list of credits includes performing and recording with Miles Davis, Steely Dan, Chaka Khan and James Brown, set out to re-imagine Monk’s music in a big band setting, not as a repertory exercise but as fresh interpretations done in Monk’s spirit.

His arrangements of even some of Monk’s iconic pieces, captured in two Grammy-nominated volumes, take the music to unexpected places. “Epistrophy” hints at a rumba; the nocturnal mysteries of  “‘Round Midnight” get reframed by a modern soul groove; “Little Rootie Tootie” opens with, of all choices, a cha cha cha, and Monk’s lesser known “Brake’s Sake” (which opens MONK’estra Vol. 2) is reborn with a muscular backbeat and a rap intervention.

Continue reading

Record Reviews: Homages and the Future

Omar Sosa

In a curious coincidence, the theme of recent big band releases by drummer Dafnis Prieto, and pianists Chucho Valdés, Arturo O’Farrill and Omar Sosa,  is to pay tribute to some seminal figures in Latin jazz, creators such as Mario Bauzá, Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo, Frank “Machito” Grillo, Chico O´Farrill, and Bebo Valdés.

Tributes have long become a lazy, ready-made narrative in jazz. What sets these releases apart is that rather than evoking the past, they celebrate the spirit of adventure and discovery that made these creators and their music immortal.

Continue reading

Program Notes Carnegie Hall: Andalusian Voices: Tempo of Light




Andalusian Voices: Carmen Linares, Marina Heredia, and Arcángel

Miguel Ángel Cortés, Guitar
José Quevedo “Bolita,” Guitar
Paquito González, Percussion
Ana Morales, Dancer
Isidro Muñoz, Music Director

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Saturday, March 17 at 8 PM

Like the blues  (its counterpart in the United States) flamenco was born out of need, as an expression of a desperately poor underclass struggling for survival in a place not his own. It was music constructed from memories, but also bits and pieces borrowed from the new home. It was, like the blues, an elusive alchemy of pain into beauty. It spoke of loss and hard times but also hope. And much like the blues, flamenco told the stories of the people who created it.

Continue reading