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Monk's Legacy

T.S. Monk
Like Father, Like Son: T.S. Monk enjoys a royal jazz lineage.

Drummer T.S. Monk carries on his father's musical tradition

By Harvey Pekar

'THIS IS A PROJECT by the jazz community. All these cats didn't come to play for me. They came to play for Thelonious Monk, to do his music," says drummer T.S. Monk, son of the great jazz pianist. The result of this unusual collaborative effort is a musical project, an album and a concert all known as Monk on Monk.

Monk on Monk consists of members of T.S. Monk's sextet--trumpeter Don Sickler, alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli, tenorman Willie Williams, pianist Ronnie Matthews and bassist Gary Wang--augmented by Howard Johnson, tuba and baritone sax; Eddie Bert, trombone; Jeff Stockham, trumpet and French horn; and David Schumacher, baritone sax. Nnenna Freelon provides the vocals.

The album Monk on Monk (N2K Encoded Music) features a number of high-profile guest artists, including trumpeters Clark Terry, Arturo Sandoval and Wallace Roney, flugelhornist Roy Hargrove, saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Jimmy Heath and Bobby Watson, pianists Herbie Hancock and Gerri Allen, and bassists Dave Holland, Ron Carter and Christian McBride.

The CD has much to recommend it, beginning with the splendid compositions of Thelonious Monk. Though often classified as a bebopper, Monk was really a school of music unto himself. The rhythmic unpredictability, angularity, dynamic subtlety and percussiveness of his work have roots in Earl Hines' piano style, and his use of dissonance is reminiscent of both Hines and Duke Ellington. Sickler's rich, fresh arrangements have a lot to do with the album's success; they frame and complement the solos splendidly, challenging the performers to make a maximum effort.

Terry, who's great but has a tendency to clown, turns in a disciplined as well as imaginative spot on "In Walked Bud." Pop-jazz tenorman Grover Washington contributes serious, John Coltrane-like work during "Little Rootie Tootie." Perhaps the best of a number of fine solos, though, is Shorter's effort on "Crepuscule With Nellie," so melodic and well-sustained that it's a song in itself.

T.S. won't bring a bunch of big names with him to Santa Cruz and Stanford, but the men in his group are more than competent and play very well on the CD. "Bobby Porcelli," says T.S., "is the key to the sound of my band. He has tastes of the sounds of Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley and Ornette Coleman, but he doesn't sound like anybody else. Most Latin players have a big sound, but they don't have Bobby's sensibility and articulation."

Don't overlook T.S.'s performance, by the way. He's a crisp, authoritative and tasteful drummer whose style has a lot in common with that of Kenny Clarke, a man who accompanied Monk and Gillespie in the early 1940s. Monk on Monk is a return to that lineage for T.S., who once strayed to R&B. "When you listen to Thelonious," T.S. says, "he's always going for it. That transcends everything he does. He always sounds like he's reaching, reaching. First and foremost, I wanted Monk on Monk to reach for something new, and I think we got it."

Monk on Monk performs Thursday (Oct. 16) at 7:30 and 9:30pm at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz; tickets are $17 adv., $19 door (408/427-2227); and Friday (Oct. 17) at 8pm at Stanford's Memorial Auditorium; tickets are $20-$28. (650/723-2551)

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From the Oct. 16-22, 1997 issue of Metro.

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