Fifty years ago, when he had been all but banned from the New York club scene, jazz great Thelonious Monk booked a concert at the city's venerable Town Hall auditorium. Playing with a big band for the first time and using new arrangements, Monk wowed the audience with what has since been recognized as a seminal jazz performance.
In 2007, Duke Performances brought a variety of musicians and artists to campus to honor and explore Monk's legacy in "Following Monk," a six-week series. Duke Magazine reported on two original performances from this event, collaborations between the Jazz Loft Project at the Center for Documentary Studies and famed jazz musicians Charles Tolliver and Jason Moran.
Tolliver, a jazz trumpeter, band leader, and arranger, who saw the Town Hall concert as a young man, revisited Monk's rehearsal sessions and, using never-before-heard tapes, debuted a note-by-note replication of the original show. Moran, a pianist, performed the world premiere of his composition In My Mind: Monk @ Town Hall 1959 at Duke. The mixed-media program features photographs taken of Monk by the legendary photographer W. Eugene Smith and Moran's own film footage of Monk's childhood home in North Carolina.
The two shows—the replicated Monk performance and the new composition—together had their New York premiere this winter as a fiftieth-anniversary celebration series played in late February at Town Hall. Over two nights, Tolliver and Moran paid tribute to Monk, and both shows were recorded and then broadcast on WNYC, the nation's largest public-radio station.
The Jazz Loft Project, named for the building at 821 Sixth Avenue where Monk and other musicians gathered, will culminate this coming winter. Sam Stephenson A.M. '97, director of the project, is writing a book detailing the personalities, jam sessions, and happenings from the jazz loft that will be published in November. A national traveling exhibition will open in New York in February 2010.
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