“Lacy has been recording Monk’s music for over forty years now, and his appearance on this album as a guest soloist takes the band on an elevator ride right to the top shelf of jazz interpretations...”
— NPR Jazz Review
A few days after introducing the Asian American Orchestra's premiere of Far East Suite at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September 1999, legendary jazz producer Orrin Keepnews asked me, “Have you considered giving Monk’s music the same treatment that you gave Ellington’s?” And so this project was born.
Steve Lacy: soprano saxophone; Anthony Brown: drumset, gong; Louis Fasman: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Mark Izu: bass, Chinese mouth organ (sheng); Melecio Magdaluyo: alto sax, baritone sax, cajón (Cuban box drum); Dave Martell: trombone, tuba; Hafez Modirzadeh: tenor sax, alto clarinet; Jim Norton: contra alto clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone sax, soprano sax; Wayne Wallace: trombone; Hong Wong: Chinese viola (zhonghu) and mouth organ; Francis Wong: tenor sax, clarinet; John Worley: trumpet, fluegelhorn;Yang Qin Zhao: Chinese hammered dulcimer (yangqin)
Anthony Brown’s Liner Notes to “Monk’s Moods”
I began by thinking of the parallels and affinities Monk shared with Asia, and his interpretation of “Kojo Noh Tsuki,” retitled “Japanese Folk Song” first came to mind. The preeminence of the number five in Asian culture and music, particularly the five elements in Chinese philosophy, is ostensibly resonant with the centrality of Monk’s musical flatted fifths. His employment of pentatonic scales along with his fondness for Chinese headgear displayed an oriental sensitivity. Also, Monk’s often Zen-like aphorisms, his oblique, asymmetrical musical phrasings and generous use of space evoked an Asian sensibility, not to mention his refrigerator usually filled with take-out Chinese food (if “you are what you eat...”).
My first inclination was to focus on Monk’s compositional craft, particularly in his solo piano performances, to work with the intricacies of his music and to showcase its beauty and eccentricity in an ensemble format. For me, this meant to remove the piano from the arrangements, to preempt the inevitable stylistic comparisons between Monk and whoever attempted to recreate the idiomatic idiosyncrasies of his piano-centric conceptions. My next move was to revisit the Hall Overton arrangements for the 1959 Town Hall concert of Monk’s first orchestra, and to blend a Chinese hammered dulcimer, viola and mouth organ into the adaptations. The Chinese hammered dulcimer, or yangqin (“yang-chin”), meaning “foreign instrument,” came to China from Persia as the santoor in the 1500s. The pianoforte was invented 200 years later in Italy when the keyboard was added. For me, returning to its original “Grandmother” was the perfect strategy for replacing the piano.
Another natural parameter was to draw from works and arrangements recorded during Monk’s prolific six-year tenure with Riverside when Orrin was his producer. This selection facilitated including several of his musical family portraits, those for his wife, son, sister-in law and his self-portrait, “Monk’s Mood,” although the origins of that title vary. Steve Lacy claims the original title was, “That’s the Way I Feel Now,” while Max Roach says he was with Monk in an uptown after hours nightclub when he wrote, “Why Do You Evade Facts?”
The possibility of a Monk-alumnus as a guest on the Orchestra’s recording precipitated a meeting with Steve Lacy. Orrin and I met with Steve after his performance in March 2000 at San Francisco’s Noe Valley Ministry. After listening to the Orchestra’s Grammy nominated version of Ellington’s Far East Suite back at his home in Paris, Steve wrote and said he would like to record with us when he returned to the West Coast in August.
The first of two recording dates took place on April 20, 2000, at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA. Three Overton adaptations along with updated arrangements of “Brilliant Corners” and “Evidence” were completed for the session with the invaluable assistance of Jim Norton. To begin the CD with the “title” tune seemed totally natural since it encapsulates our intent to capture several facets of Monk’s musical sensibilities. Our allusion to the trio version by Monk, John Coltrane and Wilbur Ware begins with a viola solo by Hong Wang, which yields to Yang Qin’s commanding entrance on hammered dulcimer, accompanied by Mark Izu’s strummed double bass. This introduces the full orchestra featuring a brass choir supporting the solo alto saxophone by Melecio Magdaluyo.
The rest of the session went without a hitch; we completed five tracks from 10am-3pm. We even cut “Little Rootie Tootie” in one hurried take, waiting for the pizza to be delivered for our noon lunch break. We returned to the studio in August after meeting with Steve Lacy and rehearsing with him the day before. The repertoire was chosen and arrangements written after listening to several of Lacy’s solo soprano saxophone recordings of Monk compositions. The charts were written so that Lacy could play what he usually does and to surround him with the Orchestra. Wayne Wallace was asked to write an arrangement for “Misterioso” and he came up with the funkiest Elliot Carteresque jazz arrangement ever. The closing “Pannonica” was recorded as a quartet after Steve heard Yang Qin playing it solo during a break. Again, the session netted five tracks in five hours.
Despite the uncommon smoothness of the recording sessions, the Monk’s Moods project hit bumpy roads in the business end of things. Orrin had secured a recording deal with EMusic, a “legal” internet music downloading company, to release Monk’s Moods as the first of ten recordings on Orrin’s new label, Keeper Records. Monk’s Moods was released initially as a downloadable at Emusic.com in March 2001, however, Universal-Vivendi absorbed EMusic in June 2001 and the Keeper Records projects languished in a corporate black hole for another year. After finally securing the Rights and Masters, I released Monk’s Moods in September 2002 as a CD on my daughters’ label, Water Baby Records.
The recording of Monk’s Moods includes: Steve Lacy (soprano saxophone), Anthony Brown (drumset, gong), Louis Fasman (trumpet, fluegelhorn), Mark Izu (bass, Chinese mouth organ (sheng), Melecio Magdaluyo (alto sax, baritone sax, cajón [Cuban box drum]), Dave Martell (trombone, tuba), Hafez Modirzadeh (tenor sax, alto clarinet), Jim Norton (contra alto clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone sax, soprano sax), Wayne Wallace (trombone), Hong Wong (Chinese viola, zhonghu and mouth organ), Francis Wong (tenor sax, clarinet), John Worley (trumpet, fluegelhorn), Yang Qin Zhao (Chinese hammered dulcimer (yangqin).
Special thanks to Steve Lacy for his embracing spirit, and to the Asian American Orchestra and Orrin Keepnews for realizing this project. My gratitude to Lee Tanner and Chuck Stewart for the use of their original Monk prints. Thank you: David Luke, Stephen Hart, Nina Bombardier, Coleen Geoffray, Stuart Kremsky and Jeff Porter at Fantasy Studios; Dr. Leonard Brown; Jazz In Flight; SF JAZZ; and Lauraine Bacon @ KABA Audio. Domo arigato to my family, Michael Aczon, Max Roach, Dan Morgenstern, Ken Kimery, Robert Berenson, David Barker, Andy Nozaka, Neil Tesser, Bill Bennett, Andrew Bartlett, Derek Sivers, Melody of China, KCSM-FM, KPFA, KQED, WERS, WBEZ, WBGO.
— Anthony Brown, Ph.D