Thursday, 11 May 2017

William Burroughs' Music List and Premier League Star Thelonious Monk

Reading Oliver Harris' notes to William Burroughs' The Ticket That Exploded (The Restored Text) this morning I came across the above list from the New York Public Library collection of Burroughs papers; song titles and lyrics he thought worthy of writing down for possible use. Seeing a a couple of Thelonious Monk tunes in there (Bemsha Swing and Blue Monk) made me want to hear some Monk. Before I did my thoughts turned to Jazz players and not for the first time the place of players in a league table, but not actual place, just leagues. Stupid, I know.

I pictured the Premier League and if you know your Jazz you can guess who's in there. Unlike football leagues, these ones don't have roughly the same amount of members. The Championship (next league down) for instance, would be big, but not as big as the Premier League. It doesn't seem possible, at first, that anyone could get promoted or relegated, but then, my taste changes over the years. Regarding jazz, that's less a matter of 'taste', but increased appreciation in most cases. Is that the same thing? John Coltrane's later material, for instance, has been 'relegated' over the years. To where? The Championship, of course. These days I much prefer his Atlantic and early Impulse stuff. It's criminal to even consider relegating any Coltrane to some people, never mind his totally Out There recordings, but excuse me for having a personal preference. There were many very good players in Jazz and they fill The Championship. These days I'm much more fussy about what I listen to and even Very Good stuff doesn't get much of a look-in when it's competing with Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington et al.

Thelonious Monk is a Premier League star, despite/because of his relatively short golden age and erratic nature, which made him Monk. Everything else that warrants his inclusion is evident in Bemsha Swing from Thelonious Monk Trio (1954). I won't try to convince you of its merits. It would be akin to explaining why a mountain is amazing. Listening again today though I was struck by Max Roach's drumming. As befits the Be-Bop master, he not only drives the tune but near the two-minute mark starts to shower it with percussive salvos rather than simply solo. All without overpowering the tune or Monk's playing.

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