Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – The Music Column with William Price King – Jazz Pianist and Composer Thelonious Sphere Monk

This week William Price King shares the music of jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Sphere Monk.

Thelonious Monk was an American jazz pianist and composer. He had a unique improvisational style and made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire. Monk is the second-most-recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, which is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed more than a thousand pieces, whereas Monk wrote about 70.

Monk was renowned for a distinct look which included suits, hats, and sunglasses. He was also noted for an idiosyncratic habit during performances: while other musicians continued playing, Monk would stop, stand up, and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano.

Now time to listen to some of the innovative music of Thelonious Monk.

“Brilliant Corners”, recorded in three sessions in1956 with two different quintets, was Monk’s third album for Riverside Records. The title track, with its unconventional song structure that deviated from the standard song and blues form as well as from Monk’s African-American music roots, was quite complex and required over a dozen takes in the studio to get it right, with changing tempos and accents that only Monk could think of. Monk was the master of the single note, perfectly selected, timed, and struck so that it would have a symphonic amplitude. For Down Beat Magazine, “Brilliant Corners” was the most critically acclaimed album of 1975. In 1999 this album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, it was also included in the reference book ‘1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die,’ and in 2003 was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress because of its historical significance.

“Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington” is Monk’s tribute to the Duke released on Riverside Records in 1955. Monk and the Duke were totally different in terms of personality and style. The Duke was known for his delicate and elegant melodies and Monk for his harmonic dissonance and percussive style playing with complicated twists and turns. On this album Monk took creative liberties, turning familiar melodies and harmonies into subtle but complicated inversions, playing in the spirit of the Duke while at the same time demonstrating mastery over both tradition and innovation. Monk recorded this album with bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Kenny Clarke. This is an outstanding album highlighting the beginnings and golden years of Monk’s career.

“Round Midnight” was penned as an instrumental by Thelonious Monk when he was 18 years old and it was first recorded by Cootie Williams and His Orchestra in 1944 at the suggestion of jazz pianist Bud Powell. Following its success, Dizzzy Gillespie asked lyricist Bernie Hanighen to put words to the melody. This beautiful and haunting ballad was then recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, Sarah Vaughan and many more making this the most recorded jazz standard composed by a jazz musician. In 1986, the song was used as the title for the film “Round Midnight “starring saxophonist Dexter Gordon with jazzmen Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter. The film won both the British and Academy Awards for Best Score by Herbie Hancock. In 1993 a version of this piece recorded by Monk’s quintet was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

“Criss-Cross”, released on Columbia Records in 1963, is one of Monk’s best albums and features his unique style of stride* piano, harmonic sophistication, rhythmic displacement, and orchestral swing. This album demonstrates how jazz of the 60s was played and at what point many trends were changed. It’s important to note that the musicians who recorded this album had been playing together with Monk for four years at the time of the recording, consequently these tracks are like polished works of art. The title song « Criss-Cross, » is one of Monk’s most critically acclaimed compositions and the success of this song and album led to Monk’s appearance on the cover of Time Magazine in February 1964.

* Stride piano is a style that was developed on the East Coast of the US during the 1920s and 1930s, mainly in New York. This consists of the left hand playing a four-beat pulse with a single bass note, octave, major seventh or major tenth interval on the first and third beats, and a chord on the second and fourth beats.

Additional Sources: Wikipedia

Buy the Music: Amazon US – And: Amazon UK

William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.

His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.

While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.

His debut jazz album was entitled “Home,” and was a collection of contemporary compositions he composed, with lyrics written by his wife Jeanne King. His second album was a Duo (Voice and Guitar) with Eric Sempé on the guitar. This album included original songs as well as well known standards from contemporary jazz and pop artists. The “King-Sempé” duo toured France and thrilled audiences for more than three years before going their separate ways. King has formed a new duo with French/Greek guitarist Manolis, and is now exploring new ideas, in a smooth jazz/soul/folk direction.

In addition to singing and composing, King has been collaborating with author Sally Cronin over the past few years on her blog “Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life,” with the series “A Man And His Music – Jazz, Contemporary, Classical, and Legends” and now, the “William Price King Music Column.” Working with author Sally Cronin has been an exhilarating experience in many ways and has brought a new dimension to King’s creative life. King has also created a micro blog, “Improvisation,” which features and introduces mostly jazz artists from across the jazz spectrum who have made considerable contributions in the world of jazz; and also artwork from painters who have made their mark in the world of art. This micro blog can be found on Tumblr.

His vocal mentors are two of the greatest giants in jazz, Nat King Cole and Mel Tormé. King has a distinctive wide-ranging voice which displays a remarkable technical facility and emotional depth.

William Price King on Tumblr – IMPROVISATION

Buy William’s music ITunes

Connect with William

Regular Venue 

You can find all of the Music Column series in this directory:

My thanks to William for sharing the music of Thelonious Monk with us this week and as always your feedback is very welcome.

21 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – The Music Column with William Price King – Jazz Pianist and Composer Thelonious Sphere Monk

  1. Wow! Can you imagine being eighteen years old and writing a song that Dizzy Gillespie gets someone to write the lyrics, and Ella Fitzgerald sings? That is monumental. Thank you, William.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have enjoyed Thelonious Monks music for a while…a number of years but as always I learn something that I didn’t know…Thank you, William and Sally, for sharing I always look forward to these posts…Hugs xx

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Weekly Round Up March 1st – 7th 2020 – #Backup larders #Jazz, Books, Guests, Humour and Health | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

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