Holman Revisits Monk

Watching and listening to Bill Holman put his big band through its paces was a rare treat. The 86-Bill Holman Conductingyear-old leader was preparing his troops for a rare public performance of his arrangements of the ten Thelonious Monk compositions in his celebrated Brilliant Corners album. Allowed to drop out of sight, never reissued, Holman’s Monk CD recorded in 1997 is one of the large-ensemble masterpieces of the second half of the twentieth century. Nor has there been anything that I know of to match it in the new millennium.

The concert tonight at Vitello’s in Los Angeles will be filmed for the documentary about Holman that I wrote about a couple of days ago. It has the makings of one of the city’s cultural events of the year, but it has received a puzzling lack of attention in the press and virtually no promotion by the club—barely a mention on their website. Holman’s band has some of L.A.’s youngest top-flight musicians, some of its oldest and some in between. As its 16 pros navigated the demands of his arrangements this afternoon, their enthusiasm, precision and joy were as if they were all about 25. If you are in L.A., or within striking distance, you might give attendance serious consideration. I rarely find myself in a promotional mood. For this, I make an exception.

Here is one of the pieces from that 1997 album, Monk’s “Friday The 13th.” The quirky soprano saxophone work is by the late Bill Perkins.

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  1. says

    I’ve had the Monk CD since it came out. It’s an album I play on a regular basis. What amazes me is that every time I play it I hear something new and it always seems fresh. Holman is truly an exceptional musician.

    Doug, you are lucky man to be seeing both the rehearsals and also the club gig. I’m very envious.

  2. says

    Tonight will be very special indeed! I used to play Willis’s “Straight, No Chaser” (which won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement that year) for my arranging students at Rutgers, and watch their jaws hit their desks one by one. ☺

  3. says

    Outstanding chart, very Monkish soprano. Thanks for posting those sounds, Doug.

    There are at least three ways you can improvise on “Friday The 13th”: The most obvious would be to play on the melody; or you break the chords, and use those tones; or you leave melody and chords behind, and just blow freely, as you like it.

    It’s a jazz microcosmos, an eternal circle (like “Bemsha Swing”), it’s like watching Thelonious walking ’round the kitchen table, murmuring in superstitious angst: “It’s Friday the 13th, it’s Friday the 13th, it’s Friday the 13th, it’s Friday the……… ” 😉

    — My band will play this very tune on the next … “Friday The 13th” … which will be in December 2013 … “BREW LITE’s 4 SWINGIN’ MONKS”.

    We will also initially perform “your” piece: “Rambunctious Ramsey”. — But all in all will it be our annual Advent’s jazz concert.

  4. Rob D says

    Would love to see a SACD version of this classic session. Might get it back in print for a time and if premium priced, maybe worthwhile for all concerned. I don’t have a copy but I wish I did..it’s wonderful in many varied ways.