THELONIOUS MONK

In my high school days, I saw Monk live at various jazz clubs in New York City. His tunes, soloing, style of comping on the piano, and presence on stage were totally unique. I absorbed a little bit of his approach as a composer/jazz player. Bobby Colomby’s oldest brother, Jules, was Monk's manager. Bobby, a true jazz lover, had an idea (which maybe he only shared with me) for Blood, Sweat and Tears to record an album with Monk. Following through on his idea, Bobby took me over to visit Monk at his Manhattan apartment. It was a very strange, disconcerting experience for me. I’m sure it wasn’t Monk’s fault at all, but I felt very uncomfortable and clumsy around him - almost to the point of tripping over my own feet when standing near him or taking a few steps around his apartment.

When we entered his place, he was playing "A Christmas Song" on his grand piano. With a bit of a lisp or unusual way of speaking, he said to us, “It’s a good tune.” After a while, I played something at the piano, perhaps, to give Monk some sense of a musical concept for a Monk with BS&T album. I have no memory of what I played for this musical giant on his piano! But when I stopped, he said that I was a good player. Those few moments/minutes that I played with Monk standing around, listening to me, were very strange for me, almost like a test of Fred's 'inner strength' as a person/player. Bobby and I hadn't yet discussed any concepts for an album with Monk, so I had no clue what to play that might be helpful to 'bridge' the Monk & BS&T ablum thing! Monk was pleasant and gracious after that, even though there was very little conversation amongst the three of us. Then tenor player, Charlie Rouse entered Monk’s apartment. That seemed to be a good cue for us to thank Monk and be on our way.

Sometime later, when BS&T was recording at the new CBS studio in San Francisco, Jules came by with Monk for a brief visit. Soon after that, Jules hooked it up for Lew Soloff and me to play a tune with Monk’s group one afternoon at the Keystone jazz club in San Francisco. Before playing, we hung out in the dressing room with Monk and his band. The bassist gave me a gift – a primitive looking wooden flute that he had made. The holes were burnt out and the instrument was played like a shakuhachi (Japanese wooden flute). Monk, who was standing directly in front of me and a few inches taller than me, only said a few words, but he was friendly, as were the others. When we got on stage I didn’t know what was going to happen. .. Monk began playing the intro to "Friday the Thirteenth", one of the ‘few’ Monk tunes I knew! I ripped into the melody and was the first one to solo. When the tune ended, Lew and I got off the stage and sat down in the audience next to Jules. He very enthusiastically said to me, “That was great”, meaning that he liked the fact that I played with so much confidence, without any hesitation. I was just so grateful that I knew that tune! Bobby’s idea for a BS&T with Monk album never happened, but, at least I got a chance to meet and play with Monk!