On each of his first three recordings for Riverside, Thelonious Monk included a solo piano presentation, and for many listeners, these were the highlights of each recital.
And so it was decided that Monk's fourth Riverside recording, Thelonious Himself, would be composed entirely of solo interpretations; well, almost. Like a great actor finding heretofore obscure layers of meaning in a familiar soliloquy, Monk takes familiar themes such as "April in Paris," "I Should Care," and "Almost Alone" and distills them down to a single essence.
Where most pianists would simply expand upon the tune (or employ the chord changes as a showcase for their own variations), Monk keeps everything focused on thematic materials. For his final selection, "Monk's Mood," the pianist insisted on adding bassist Wilbur Ware and an up-and-coming tenor saxophonist named John Coltrane. By allowing them to italicize and expand upon his basslines and lead melody, Monk enabled listeners to zero in on the essence of his solo and ensemble styles.
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