Composed by Thelonoius Monk; arranged by Gene Roland.
Recorded by Gene Roland and His Swingin’ Friends for Brunswick on May 23-24, 1963 in New York.
Gene Roland directing: Eugene “Snooky” Young, first trumpet; Clark Terry trumpet; Jimmy Knepper, trombone; Al Cohn and John H. “Zoot” Sims, tenor saxophones; John Bunch, piano; John Beal, bass; Sol Gubin, drums.
The story: Arranger/trumpeter/trombonist Gene Roland was a Texan, born in Dallas in 1921. He went to North Texas State Teachers’ College in the early 1940s, where he met saxophonist/clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre. He entered military service during World War II with Giuffre, where they together joined a band that eventually grew into the Eighth Air Force Orchestra. After his discharge from the Army Air Force in 1944, Roland joined Stan Kenton’s band as a trumpeter and arranger, and worked intermittently with Kenton until 1955. During that decade, he also wrote arrangements for many other bandleaders including Lionel Hampton, Charlie Barnet, Claude Thornhill, Artie Shaw and Harry James. He joined Woody Herman in 1956 and remained with him until early 1958, when he began free-lancing in New York. (Roland is shown posing with a mellophonium, an instrument Stan Kenton experimented with. Roland played the mellophonium in Kenton’s band for a time in the mid-1960s.)
This performance of Thelonious Monk’s most famous composition “‘Round Midnight,” is a part of a ten tune LP that was issued in 1963 on the Brunswick label entitled Swingin’ Friends …arranged and conducted by Gene Roland. The LP was produced by Benny Goodman’s older brother, Harry Goodman. The musicians who made this recording were all New York free-lancers in the early 1960s. But shortly before this recording was made, trumpeter Clark Terry had made the move from Duke Ellington’s band into the NBC Tonight Show orchestra, then directed by Skitch Henderson.
This was remarkable because Clark (shown at right in the mid-1960s) was the first black musician to become a member of that ensemble. His sterling musicianship, great ability as a jazz improviser, and buoyant personality (1) ensured that he would be a valuable member of that band for as long as he wished to be. Musicians in that band could do other work, but only at times that did not conflict with rehearsals or tapings of The Tonight Show.
After Terry had settled in as a member of that band, another opening occurred in its trumpet section. Clark advocated strongly for the wonderful lead trumpeter Snooky Young (who was then working with Count Basie) to get the job. Snooky eventually did get that job, but not without some difficulty. Snooky remained with the Tonight Show band for some 28 years, until Johnny Carson left the show in 1992. (Below left: Snooky Young and John Audino: both were superb lead trumpeters. They met in The Tonight Show band in 1972 when Johnny Carson moved the show from New York to Hollywood, and remained section mates in that band for the next 20 years.) (2)
Tenor saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims met in the Woody Herman band in the late 1940s. By the early and mid-1960s, Al Cohn, who was also a good arranger, was busy doing studio work in New York as a saxophonist, and providing arrangements for all kinds of groups. His close friend, Zoot Sims, did less studio work, but more as a soloist in the jazz field, performing with bands of all sizes in the United States and Europe. I was lucky enough to see Zoot and Al perform together with a local rhythm section at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago in the late 1970s. It was a memorable night. They always inspired each other musically and humorously.
The music: Although Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” is a lovely, memorable melody, much of Monk’s music, including his piano playing, requires repeated, intent listening before (indeed if) one gets his message. Monk’s music is definitely an acquired taste. It is unlikely that few if any recordings of Monk’s own playing will ever show up on a smooth jazz compendium. Yet paradoxically, Monk’s many melodies including “‘Round Midnight,” have proved to be enduring and very attractive to jazz musicians and their audiences.
The enigmatic Thelonious Monk.
Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-1982) was one of the most individual performers in the history of jazz. He had a unique improvisational style as a pianist, and as a composer created numerous melodies which are now a part of the standard jazz repertoire. These include: “‘Round Midnight,” “Blue Monk,” “Straight, No Chaser,” “Ruby, My Dear,” “In Walked Bud,” and “Well, You Needn’t.” Monk is the second-most-recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, which is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed more than a thousand pieces, whereas Monk wrote only about 70.
Monk’s improvisations feature dissonances and angular twists and are consistent with his unorthodox approach to the piano, which combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of key changes, silences, and hesitations. His keyboard style was not universally appreciated; the poet and jazz critic Philip Larkin dismissed him as “the elephant of the keyboard.”
Monk was renowned for a distinct sartorial look which included unusual suits, hats, and sunglasses. He was also noted for his idiosyncratic behavior during the performances of his various bands. While the other musicians continued playing, Monk sometimes stopped playing, stood up, and danced for a few moments before returning to the piano.
Monk is one of five jazz musicians to have been featured on the cover of Time magazine. (The others were Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and Wynton Marsalis). (3) (At right: Thelonious Monk on the cover of Time Magazine – February 28, 1964.)
The best biography of Thelonious Monk is the one written by Robin D.G. Kelley entitled: Thelonious Monk …The Life and Times of An American Original. It was published in 2009 by Free Press/Simon and Schuster.
This performance of “‘Round Midnight” is a straightforward and relatively unadorned exposition of Monk’s lovely melody that features the solo trumpet of Clark Terry, and warmly supportive instrumental backgrounds created by arranger Gene Roland. The brief tenor saxophone solo is by Al Cohn, and the glistening piano solo is by John Bunch. Lead trumpeter Snooky Young carries the ensemble passages with both brilliance and strength.
Monk composed “‘Round Midnight,” also known as “Round About Midnight” and “Grand Finale” in the early 1940s. It was first recorded by trumpeter/bandleader Cootie Williams in 1944. Williams used it as his theme song. He also took a co-composer credit, though he had nothing to do with composing the tune. This was commonly done by bandleaders during the swing era as quid pro quo for recording an unknown tune and providing promotion for the tune via the recording. Lyricist Bernie Hanighen created a lyric for “‘Round Midnight.” Thelonious Monk first recorded “‘Round Midnight” as a leader on November 21, 1947.(4)
The recording presented in this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
(1) I will always remember the night a friend and I saw Clark Terry in action as the leader of a very swinging small group at the iteration of Eddie Condon’s club (the last one) on west 54th Street in Manhattan, around 1980. In the band were Norman Simmons on piano, Mousey Alexander on drums, and possibly Lisle Atkinson on bass. (The two loudest drummers I have ever heard were Elmer “Mousey” Alexander and Eddie Shaughnessy. Buddy Rich, despite his reputation for loudness, wasn’t even close.) After the gig was over, which was quite late, around 3:00 a.m., we went up to speak with Clark, and ask him questions. He patiently listened and answered our questions for maybe five minutes. Then he said, most gently to us, “will you fellows please excuse me? I have to pay the cats…” We thanked him for the time he spent with us, and then he did in fact pay the cats, and immediately after that, everyone headed for the door. Clark Terry (shown above right) was a delightful person.
(2) The trumpet section of the Tonight Show band of the 1960s always included several lead trumpeters, in addition to Clark Terry, who was the jazz soloist. With Snooky Young in that section at various times were Jimmy Maxwell, Bernie Glow, and Carl “Doc” Severinsen, who left the trumpet section to lead the band starting in the mid-1960s.
(3) The information about Thelonious Monk is based on the Wikipedia post for him.
(4) The information about the creation and early years of “‘Round Midnight” is taken from Robin Kelley’s Monk biography cited above, at page 568.
Links: Here is a link to more information about Clark Terry, and another fine recording by him using some of the skills with a plunger-mute that he perfected while he was a member of Duke Ellington’s band:
Here is a great conversation between Clark Terry and Joe Williams, the wonderful singer, who came to fame with Count Basie’s band in the 1950s. There is a great deal of humanity, wisdom and humor in this discussion, which was taped in 1995:
Here are links to other moody, evocative performances here at swingandbeyond.com that will make it ’round midnight, no matter when you listen to them: