Thelonious Monk's 1959 Town Hall Concert Celebrated at Town Hall 2009
'Monk in My Mind' Multimedia Concert one of two concert celebrations in New York City
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The weather in New York on the night of Feb. 27 was warm and damp. This was reminiscent of the night 50 years earlier when Thelonious Monk performed his now famous concert at Town Hall in Manhattan.

The Feb. 28, 1959 concert was a significant event in the jazz world. Monk would at last be recognized as the significant innovator and contributor to the world of jazz after many years fraught with hardship and struggle.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Monk's memorable jazz concert at Town Hall, NY, jazz pianist and composer, Jason Moran presented the concert "Monk in my Mind" on Friday, fittingly also at Town Hall. Music, video projected on a screen above the musicians and audio of biographical moments in Monk's life marked the multimedia tribute to one of the most important innovators in the history of jazz.(1)

The program for the concert didn't list the individual compositions. Rather video and sound were used to mark the events that formed the framework for the performance.

A highlight of the concert was a piece about slavery. The video described how Monk's great grandfather was born a slave. Different instruments in the ensemble played appropriate instrumentals conveying this as a haunting saga of the American experience.

Another video captured how Monk strove for perfection in his performances and in his compositions.

"Why not work on one piece even if it takes a whole day rather than rehearse a whole performance and get it all wrong," Monk explained in a conversation taped in the Jazz Loft where he and Hall Overton worked together on the arrangements for the Town Hall event.(2)

Hall Overton, who later taught at the Julliard Music School, shared the loft with W. Eugene Smith.

Photos of the windows of the building and the street below flashed on the screen as the musicians performed, conveying to the audience the milieu in which the 1959 concert was prepared.

The Friday concert was part of a two-concert series. The previous evening, Feb. 26, Charles Tolliver and his 10-piece band presented a note for note reconstruction, based on recordings made of the 1959 concert, as the original arrangements had been lost. The Thursday concert was aired live on WNYC radio and is available on their website.(3)

On Friday night, Moran performed, playing the piano as part of the eight-piece ensemble, the Big Bandwagon. For his composition, Moran had had access to tapes and photographs created at the Jazz Loft, the loft building at 821 Sixth Avenue, between 28th and 29th Street, in the whole flower district of Manhattan, where from 1957-1965 jazz musicians gathered and worked on their music.

In the Thursday concert, the piano remained a significant instrument as part of the 10 piece band arrangements, just as it had been when Monk played the piano in 1959. On Friday night, however, the piano was at times overwhelmed by the other instruments.

Also, instead of an encore the musicians on Friday left the stage and went out into the orchestra, where we were told 30 members of Monk's family were seated. Extended applause, however, indicated that an encore, would have been appreciated by many, especially those seated in the balcony.

Despite these minor problems, the Friday concert not only delighted the audience with the music but also was a means of sharing the principles and experiences of the important jazz pioneer being honored by two important contemporary concerts.

A project called the Jazz Loft Project is currently gathering the tapes and digital files and photographs from the period when Monk and other important jazz artists gathered at the Jazz Loft, and these memorabilia will be exhibited in various media and venues starting in the fall of 2009 and continuing on through 2012.


(1) Jason Moran Concert at Town Hall, February 27, 2009.

(2) Nate Chinen,Home life with mikes: A jazz history, International Herald Tribune, February 24, 2009

(3) WNYC radio, Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall 1959: Reviving a Landmark, Thursday, February 26, 2009.

2009/03/02 오후 3:15
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