Misterioso (Thelonious Monk album)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Not to be confused with Monk's 1965 album Misterioso (Recorded on Tour).
A reproduction of Giorgio de Chirico's 1915 painting The Seer, featuring a one-eyed figure, architectural forms, and a chalkboard
Live album by Thelonious Monk Quartet
Released 1958
Recorded August 7, 1958
Venue Five Spot Café in New York City
Genre Hard bop
Length 47:08
Label Riverside
Producer Orrin Keepnews
Thelonious Monk albums chronology
  • Misterioso
  • (1958)

Misterioso is a live album by American jazz ensemble the Thelonious Monk Quartet, released in 1958 by Riverside Records. Pianist and composer Thelonious Monk had overcome an extended period of career difficulties by the time of his 1957 residency at the Five Spot Café in New York City. He returned to the venue the following year for a second residency and recorded Misterioso on August 7, 1958, leading a quartet that featured drummer Roy Haynes, bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, and tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin.

Misterioso and its title track refer to Monk's reputation as an enigmatic, challenging musician. The album's cover art, which appropriates Giorgio de Chirico's 1915 painting The Seer, was part of Riverside's attempt to capitalize on Monk's popularity with listeners such as the intellectual and bohemian audiences at the Five Spot Café. The album features four of his earlier compositions, which Monk reworked live. It was one of the first successful live recordings of his music and was produced by Orrin Keepnews, who said that Monk played more distinctly than on his studio albums in response to the audience's enthusiasm.

In contemporary reviews of Misterioso, music critics complimented Monk's performance but were critical of Griffin, whose playing they felt was out of place with the quartet. It was remastered and reissued in 1989 and 2012 by Original Jazz Classics. Since its initial reception, the album has received retrospective acclaim from critics, who viewed Griffin's playing as a highlight.


The Five Spot Café was located in New York City's Cooper Square (pictured in 1957).

After twenty years of career struggles and obscurity, Thelonious Monk had become a jazz star with a residency at the Five Spot Café in New York City's East Village. In his first stable job in years, he helped transform the small bar into one of the city's most popular venues, as it attracted bohemians, hipsters, and devout fans of Monk's music.[1] Monk's employment there was a result of an appeal by his manager Harry Colomby to the State Liquor Authority (SLA) to restore Monk's cabaret card; he was stripped of the card in 1951 when he refused to betray friend and pianist Bud Powell to the police and was convicted of narcotics possession as a consequence.[2]

Although the loss limited him as a performer, Monk recorded several albums of original music and received much attention from the press, which led Colomby to argue to the SLA that he was "a drug-free, law-abiding citizen, whose productivity and growing popularity as a recording artist demonstrates his standing as a responsible working musician".[3] In May 1957, the SLA said Monk needed to get a club owner to hire him first, so Colomby considered the Five Spot Café: "I wanted to find a place that was small. I once drove past this place in the Village and there was a bar and I heard music ... A place where poets hung out."[4] Joe Termini, who co-owned the venue with his brother Iggy, testified at Monk's police hearing, which resulted in his card being reinstated.[4]

In July 1957, Monk began to perform at the venue for six months with saxophonist John Coltrane, bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, and drummer Shadow Wilson in his group.[5] However, by the time Monk's employment there ended in December, he had lost Wilson to poor health, while Coltrane left in pursuit of a solo career and a return to Miles Davis's group.[6] After returning to New York City's club scene with a new quartet, Monk received an eight-week offer from Joe and Iggy Termini to play the Five Spot Café beginning on June 12, 1958.[7] He played most nights during the weekend to capacity crowds with Abdul-Malik, drummer Roy Haynes, and tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin, who had performed with Monk before.[8] Griffin was unfamiliar with all of his repertoire and, like Coltrane, found it difficult to solo over Monk's comping during their first few weeks: "Any deviation, one note off, and you sound like you're playing another tune, and you're not paying attention to what's going on. And it's so evident ... there's no space."[9] During their performances, Monk often left the stage for a drink at the bar or danced around, which gave Griffin an opportunity to play with more space. However, the quartet eventually developed a sufficient rapport and grasp of the set list.[9]

Recording and production[edit]

Black and white photograph of a man playing piano
The album's title drew on Monk's reputation as an enigmatic, challenging musician. (photographed by William P. Gottlieb at Minton's Playhouse, NYC, c. September 1947)

Producer Orrin Keepnews attempted to record the quartet live at the Five Spot Café on two different occasions in 1958. His first recording of the ensemble was of two sets in their July 9 show. Monk was disappointed with the recording and did not allow his label Riverside Records to release it, although it was ultimately released posthumously.[9] Keepnews returned to the venue on August 7 when Monk performed an evening show in the club's overcrowded room set up with recording equipment.[10] It yielded both Misterioso and the 1958 album Thelonious in Action, which was released first.[11] The show was believed to be the first successful live recording of Monk's music, until his 1957 concert recording with Coltrane at Carnegie Hall was discovered and released in 2005.[12] The two live albums from the Five Spot Café are the only recordings that document Monk's time with Griffin.[13]

According to Keepnews, who produced Misterioso, the album and its title track were titled as a slight play on the words "mist" and "mystery" to evoke the perception of Monk's music as enigmatic and challenging at the time.[14] Jazz critic Neil Tesser said that the word, which is Latin for "in a mysterious manner", was "used most often as a musical direction in classical music scores. But by the time Monk's quartet recorded this music [in 1958] 'Misterioso' had largely come to identify Monk himself."[15]

To capitalize on Monk's popularity with intellectual and bohemian fans from venues such as the Five Spot Café, Riverside released Misterioso and reissues of his older albums with designs referencing 20th century works of art.[16] The album's cover art is a reproduction of Giorgio de Chirico's 1915 painting The Seer, which was originally painted as a tribute to French poet Arthur Rimbaud.[17] Monk biographer Robin Kelley argued that, because Rimbaud had "called on the artist to be a seer in order to plumb the depths of the unconscious in the quest for clairvoyance", the painting was the best choice as the album's cover: "The one-eyed figure represented the visionary; the architectural forms and the placement of the chalkboard evoked the unity of art and science—a perfect symbol for an artist whose music has been called 'mathematical.'"[16] According to musicologist Robert G. O'Meally, the cover reflects "the mysterious violations of convention of perspective, the silences, and oddly attractive angles (the overall futuristic quality) in Monk's music".[18]


Monk resumes his piano playing on the song after Johnny Griffin's fast-to-moderate saxophone solo.[13]

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Misterioso is a hard bop album.[19] The songs performed on the album were arranged by Monk, who reworked four of his earlier compositions.[20] Keepnews remarked on his artistry in the album's liner notes: "[I]t should be axiomatic that Monk is a constantly self-renewing composer-arranger-musician, that each new recording of an 'old' number, particularly with different personnel, represents a fresh view of it—almost a new composition."[14] According to Keepnews, Monk played piano more vividly and less introspectively than on his studio recordings in response to the enthusiastic crowds he drew nightly to the Five Spot Café.[14]

On "Nutty", Griffin incorporated lines from "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" and exhibited a frenetic swing that was complemented by counterplay from Haynes and Monk.[21] "Blues Five Spot", a new composition by Monk for the album, is a twelve-bar blues homage to the Five Spot Café and featured solos from each player.[22] Griffin and Monk transfigured chord structures and melodies throughout the performance. Griffin's solo vamp maintained the rhythm while quoting lines from other pieces, including the theme song for the animated Popeye theatrical shorts;[21] he played "The Sailor's Hornpipe" at the end of "Blues Five Spot".[23]

The quartet began "In Walked Bud" with an eight-bar piano intro and thirty-two-bar form by the quartet. Griffin began his solo a minute into the song with saxophone wails. In the third minute, Monk did not play, while Griffin played fast phrases at the top of his register with intermittently slower R&B and free jazz elements. Monk shouted approvingly throughout Griffin's solo before he resumed piano and played a two-minute theme.[13] "Just a Gigolo", a standard, was the only song on the album not composed by Monk, who performed it in a brief, unaccompanied version.[24] It is played as a single chorus repeated at length.[23]

The title track, first recorded for Blue Note Records in 1948 with vibraphonist Milt Jackson, is one of Monk's most influential recordings and is based on a series of minor second clusters.[25] His performance of the song at the Five Spot Café showcased his idiosyncratic playing of one blue note next to another. Monk superimposed musical ideas that deviated from the song's original tonal center, adding a C blue note to the D-flat blue note.[14] Haynes' subdued drumming backed Griffin's aggressive bop playing and extended solo on "Misterioso".[21]

Release and reception[edit]

A black and white photograph of a man laughing with a saxophone by his side
Johnny Griffin's playing on the album was received ambivalently by contemporary critics but praised in later reviews.

Misterioso was released in 1958 by Riverside.[26] It was Monk's eighth album for the label.[14] In a review for Hi Fi Review, critic Nat Hentoff said the album is "not one of his best" and observed "too little space for Monk's soloing and somewhat too much" for Griffin, whose saxophone cry and timing are more impressive than his solos. Hentoff also felt that Haynes and Abdul-Malik do not support Monk as creatively as Wilbur Ware and Art Blakey had on his previous Riverside albums, where he said Monk was in more compelling form.[27] In 1959, Monk was voted the pianist of the year in an annual poll of international jazz critics from Down Beat magazine, who said he can be heard "at his challenging, consistently creative best" on Misterioso.[28] Upon the album's 1964 release in the United Kingdom, Gramophone magazine's Charles Fox gave Misterioso a positive review and found its music "well up to standard", with exceptional playing by Monk and the rhythm section, particularly Haynes, who shows "once again what a great drummer he was then—and, indeed, still is today". However, Fox felt that Griffin did not fit in with the quartet and overshadowed Monk's compositions, finding his solos diffuse and characterized by trivial quotations rather than musical development.[23]

In the All Music Guide to Jazz (2002), Lindsay Planer gave Misterioso five out of five stars and said that the quartet "continually reinvent" their strong, cohesive sound with "overwhelming and instinctual capacities" throughout the album. Planer praised Griffin, whom he said "consistently liberates the performances".[21] AllMusic's Scott Yanow also gave the album five stars and stated that it is slightly better than Thelonious in Action because of Griffin's "memorable improvising on a heated version" of "In Walked Bud".[29] Music historian Ted Gioia listed Monk and Griffin's "freewheeling" performance on the title track as one of his recommended versions of the composition.[30] In his 2009 biography Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Robin Kelley wrote that because Griffin had mastered Monk's songs at that point, his solos on Misterioso and Thelonious in Action were excursive and spirited.[9] According to critic Robert Christgau, both this album and Brilliant Corners (1957) represent Monk's artistic peak.[13] He also cited Misterioso as his favorite album of all time and, in a 2009 article for The Barnes & Noble Review, wrote that Griffin's tenor solo on "In Walked Bud" remains his "favorite five minutes of recorded music".[31] Liam McManus of PopMatters was less enthusiastic about Griffin's playing, which he believed was occasionally heavy-handed and detracted from the music. Nonetheless, he gave Misterioso a score of 9 out of 10 and strongly recommended it as a great album of Monk in a casual performance with his quartet.[32]


In 1989, Misterioso was digitally remastered for its CD reissue by mastering engineer Joe Tarantino, who used 20-bit K2 Super Coding System technology at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California.[33] On May 15, 2012, Concord Music Group also reissued the album as part of their Original Jazz Classics Remasters series, along with Jazz at Massey Hall (1953) and Bill Evans' 1962 album Moon Beams. The reissue featured 24-bit remastering by Tarantino and three bonus tracks, including a medley of "Bye-Ya" and "Epistrophy" performed with drummer Art Blakey. Concord vice president Nick Phillips, who produced the reissue series, said that Misterioso is "an all-time classic live Thelonious Monk record" and "an indelible snapshot of Monk live in the late '50s."[34] In his 2012 review, McManus wrote that as with most reissues of jazz albums, the bonus tracks on Misterioso are valuable and showcase uninhibited performances of Monk's past compositions.[32]

Track listing[edit]

All songs were composed by Thelonious Monk, except where noted.[14]

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Nutty"   5:22
2. "Blues Five Spot"   8:11
3. "Let's Cool One"   9:16
Side two
No. Title Length
4. "In Walked Bud"   11:20
5. "Just a Gigolo" (composed by Irving Caesar and Leonello Casucci) 2:07
6. "Misterioso"   10:52


Release history[edit]

Region Date Label Format Catalog
United States 1958[26] Riverside Records stereo LP RLP 1133[35]
mono LP RLP 12–279[35]
United Kingdom 1964[23] RLP 279
United States April 7, 1989[36] Original Jazz Classics CD OJCCD-206-25
May 15, 2012[37] Original Jazz Classics, Concord Music Group CD reissue OJC-33725-02

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kelley 2009, p. 1.
  2. ^ Kelley 2009, pp. 144, 156, 225.
  3. ^ Kelley 2009, pp. 158, 225.
  4. ^ a b Kelley 2009, p. 225.
  5. ^ Kelley 2009, p. 225; Kelley 2009, p. 1
  6. ^ Kelley 2009, p. 239.
  7. ^ Anon. 1995, p. 70; Kelley 2009, p. 242
  8. ^ Kelley 2009, p. 242; Planer 2002, p. 895; Kelley 2009, p. 243
  9. ^ a b c d Kelley 2009, p. 243.
  10. ^ Kelley 2009, p. 243; Anon. 1995, p. 70
  11. ^ Anon. 1995, p. 70.
  12. ^ Anon. 1995, p. 70; Siegel 2005
  13. ^ a b c d Christgau 2009.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Keepnews 1958.
  15. ^ a b Tesser 2012.
  16. ^ a b Kelley 2009, p. 249.
  17. ^ O'Meally 1997, p. 39; Kelley 2009, p. 249
  18. ^ O'Meally 1997, p. 39.
  19. ^ Giddins 1976, p. 105.
  20. ^ Planer 2002, p. 895; Keepnews 1958
  21. ^ a b c d Planer 2002, p. 895.
  22. ^ Keepnews 1958; Fox 1964, p. 118
  23. ^ a b c d Fox 1964, p. 118.
  24. ^ Planer 2002, p. 895; Keepnews 1958
  25. ^ Gioia 2012, p. 267; Schuller 1958
  26. ^ a b Anon. 1958, p. 41.
  27. ^ Hentoff 1959, p. 115.
  28. ^ Anon. 1959, p. 56.
  29. ^ Yanow 2001, p. 1334.
  30. ^ Gioia 2012, p. 267.
  31. ^ Christgau 2005; Christgau 2009
  32. ^ a b McManus 2012.
  33. ^ Anon. n.d.(a).
  34. ^ Anon. 2012.
  35. ^ a b Anon. 2001, p. 304.
  36. ^ Anon. n.d.(b).
  37. ^ Anon. n.d.(c).


External links[edit]