thinking makes it so

There is grandeur in this view of life…

Round midnight #1

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I remember someone saying that Don’t cry for me Argentina lodges in the brain like a cerebral virus. Unfortunately I can’t remember who said it. I’ve Googled to no avail. Whoever it was wasn’t being very complimentary to Andrew Lloyd Webber by the way.

Thelonious Monk in 1967

Thelonious Monk in 1967

My own viral demon is Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk. But it can lodge there for eternity as far as I’m concerned. At times I think it could be the best tune ever written. Other times I am not so sure, but only because of remembering I might have forgotten what the other candidates are.

I used to play the guitar very badly. (Now I don’t play at all.) But I remember feeling an immense power of profundity just fingering the cycle of chords which make up Round Midnight.

I am no jazz expert. I like what I like and there is plenty I do not like. But the jazz I like the most is for me as great as any musical genre. My Holy Trinity are probably Monk himself, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. No surprises there. But what I find fascinating is that all three have produced stuff I can hardly listen to. They have all produced music I doubt I will ever enjoying listening to. But I can’t imagine saying that about Mozart or Beethoven or Brahms.

Round Midnight can be played and sung like a standard from the Great American Songbook. That is not to disparage it in any way. But when it is given the staccato Monk treatment it becomes almost an essay in brinkmanship – seemingly desperate to explain how that cusp operates between angular beauty and noise. Always from the side of angular beauty though:

Like all great things, it can be abused and ruined. I am a great fan of Amy Winehouse. Whatever it was that got hold of her at the time of Back to Black, it made her a great artist for a while. But Amy’s take on Round Midnight is a sad travesty – it’s as if its heart and soul meant nothing to her:

As an antidote, here is Ella Fitzgerald:

Here is the Miles Davis Quintet – with John Coltrane of course:

And Thelonious Monk again, this time with his quartet. I find the tenor sax rather pedestrian (wash my mouth out with soap and water), but it makes Monk’s solo towards the end worth waiting for all the more:

© Chris Lawrence 2009.

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Written by Chris Lawrence

17 October 2009 at 6:59 pm

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