ARRANGED BY OLIVER NELSON, EDITED BY JEFFREY SULTANOF
Thelonious Monk had gone from a quirky pianist/composer to international star, in many ways thanks to a Columbia Records recording contract that began in 1962. Like fellow jazz artists on the label such as Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis, worldwide distribution of his recordings resulted in important engagements and tours all over the globe.
By 1968 however, Columbia Records was changing its focus with regard to jazz and popular music. The home of Tony Bennett, Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis as well as Brubeck and Davis was now the home of Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel, The Byrds and Paul Revere and the Raiders, so Bennett, Mathis and company were now encouraged to modernize. Miles Davis was going in that direction anyway, so he would have little problem at the label in the years to come. Mathis and Williams went pop/rock by choosing their songs carefully and were quite successful. Bennett refused to be something he wasn't, and finished out his contract with no support from the label (one of the albums he made during this period was one of his finest, arranged and conducted by Robert Farnon; it was barely released in the U.S.). Brubeck just left the label. Thelonious Monk was in an unusual position at that time. He'd completed a problematic but successful international tour with an all-star octet/nonet, which was inexcusably not recorded by Columbia (some recordings from this tour are available on unauthorized CDs). He wasn't composing much new material, and Columbia wanted him to record songs written by the Beatles. His days were clearly numbered, but Columbia ended his contract with a bang: he made an album of his songs with big band.
If anyone was a good fit to arrange the music of Thelonious Monk, (besides Hall Overton, arranger for Monk's appearances at Town Hall and Philharmonic Hall), it was Oliver Nelson. By 1968, Nelson was a resident of Los Angeles after spending many years as part of the New York jazz scene. A saxophonist who had a very wide musical range, from rhythm and blues to hard bop and concert music for chamber groups and symphonic orchestra, he continued to write for singers, tour with his own small and large ensembles, and was now writing for television and motion pictures. He must have been delighted to work with Monk, but it was clear that this album was to be done quickly. Nelson's arrangements are very straightforward (theme, solos, out-chorus), written for four reeds, six brass, guitar, bass, drums, and Monk. The album was recorded in three three-hour sessions, two of which were done in one day. The album itself received little publicity, and did not last long in the catalog.
Notes to the Conductor:
As stated above, these arrangements are not complex and can be easily prepared for concerts and competitions. They can be opened up for any and all soloists, not just piano, trumpet and tenor sax. We have chosen to leave the instrumentation the way Nelson had it (4 reeds, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, guitar, piano, bass, drums); no optional parts have been added. When Nelson arranged these pieces, there were no lead sheets, so Monk played them for the arranger, who took them down. Several years ago, publisher Don Sickler prepared a folio of Monk lead sheets published by Thelonious Music and distributed by Hal Leonard; I was one of the editors who worked with Don. All melodies in these big band settings conform to the authorized versions of the compositions as published in the Monk fakebook. This arrangement is based on Oliver Nelson's original autograph score - this is not a transcription. -Jeffrey Sultanof, February 2010