“Une Letter de Jean”
Composed by Jean-Paul Monsche’
Recorded by the Morpheus Trio for Lucid in 1997 in Los Angeles.
The Morpheus Trio: Jean-Paul Monsche’, piano; Stephen Heidtmann, bass; Willie McNeil, drums.
The Story: This recording is truly rare, in many ways the ultimate sleeper. I have never encountered it anywhere in the last two decades since it was issued, except on the lovely CD that is tucked securely away in my library. The fact that this recording is so rare is a result of either me being unaware of its actual popularity and circulation, or more likely that it simply appeared and then rapidly receded from public awareness.(*) Regardless, this is a splendid performance of a strong melody that deserves to be heard and enjoyed.
What is also very unusual about this recording is how it got to be made. The music business has always been closely aligned with the marketing business. In order for “units” to be recorded, there has to be some expectation that they will eventually be sold. They key to that is to get a a publicly recognizable name to be associated with the recordings to be made. As improbable as it may sound, the publicly recognizable name that was associated with this project was that of a medical doctor, Jack Kevorkian (1928-2011). I will not get into a discussion of what Jack Kevorkian did in his medical practice, or how I felt and feel about that. But I will focus on the part of the man that involved music.
Kevorkian’s activities brought him into constant contact with the media. They were fascinated by not only what he did, but by the kind of man he was. Once, when Kevorkian was being interviewed by a journalist who was expecting that his subject, a medical doctor formed in the crucible of science, would talk about science and scientists, the journalist was brought up short when he asked Kevorkian who he thought possessed the greatest mind in recorded human history. Kevorkian’s answer was that he thought Johann Sebastian Bach had the greatest mind. Flummoxed by this odd answer, the journalist then asked Kevorkian what historical event he would most like to have witnessed. Kevorkian’s answer: “I would have liked to have sat motionless on a bench and watched Bach composing one of his concertos, which come closer than most of the frail works of man to deserving the term immortal.” With that, the interview ended.
What Kevorkian later divulged was that Bach’s was not the only music that he enjoyed. “(I) am a huge fan of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. The swing tune “Celery Stalks at Midnight” (by the Will Bradley-Ray McKinley band), can always be counted on to make me smile.”
In order to try to maintain equilibrium in his often chaotic life, Kevorkian began to work with music. “I don’t claim to be a musician,” he said. “But composing music has been both curiously satisfying, and one of the most intellectually challenging things I have done.”
Somehow, the producers of the CD that ultimately was to contain “Une Lettre de Jean” became aware of a suite of music composed by Kevorkian that could be performed by a small jazz group. It was called, ironically, “A Very Still Life.” As the project came together, the aptly named Morpheus Quintet, which included the trio identified above, along with Elliott Caine on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Jay Work on tenor saxophone and flute, were contracted to record the ethereal suite. The arranging that was necessary to put Kevorkian’s music into a form that the Morpheus Quintet could play was done by the pianist of the Quintet, Los Angeles-based Jean-Paul Monsche’. Kevorkian himself played flute and organ on various parts of the suite.
The music: “Une Letter de Jean” is not a part of Kevorkian’s suite. It was composed by Jean-Paul Monsche’. But it appears on the CD containing the suite as a most appropriate epilogue. Monsche’s melody is moody, sensuous and memorable. The performance by the Morpheus Trio and sound quality of this recording are superb. Notable is Monsche’s spare, crystalline piano, the splendid bass support he receives from Stephen Heidtmann, and the whispering drumming of Willie McNeil. Many pianists prefer to work with only a bassist when attempting to create an intimate musical mood, like the one that pervades this performance. Most drummers find it difficult to play with the restraint and imagination that is evident in this performance. But here, all three musicians work together perfectly to transport the listener into a hushed, floating, dreaming place of warmth and joy. This is music for late at night. Bravo Morpheus Trio!
“Une Lettre de Jean” in English means “A Letter to John.” It is unclear who wrote the letter, or to whom it was directed. Did Monsche’ receive the letter? Did he write it? What is clear is that Monsche’ wrote this evocative melody, and that anyone who listens to it will be the recipient of musical pleasure.
(*) The CD was issued in limited circulation of 5,000 units. Mine bears the number 2228. So there are obviously others out there somewhere.
This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.