The tune is 16 bars in the form of AABA. It is in 4/4 meter but is often played with a 2-feel. The melody consists of a motif around a descending C phrygian scale (the A section) and a chromatic sequencing of the same motif a fourth higher on an F phrygian scale (the B section). The chordal movement by contrast suggests a C Major tonality rather than C Spanish phrygian, its relative minor f (melodic or harmonic), or its relative Major, A♭ Major. However, the song ends on a D♭maj7 (#11) rather than a C chord, a displacement which is characteristic of Monk compositions.
The song was first recorded by Monk on the sessions for the album Thelonious Monk Trio in 1952. Soon after, in 1954, it was later recorded with Monk as a sideman on the Miles Davis album Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants, which was released in 1959. Monk himself revisited the song on his acclaimed 1957 LP Brilliant Corners.
Besides Davis the tune became favoured by many others. After its initial publication free Jazz pianist Cecil Taylor covered the tune on his 1956 album Jazz Advance. Four years later, in 1960, sax player John Coltrane recorded a version with Don Cherry on their The Avant-Garde (released 1966). Ed Blackwell was on drums at that session with whom Cherry revisited the track on their duo record El Corazón in 1982. Cherry recalled the tune again on his 1989 Art Deco.
In 1963 Bill Evans released a piano solo interpretation on his acclaimed record Conversations with Myself. Nearly two decade later Geri Allen recorded another piano solo version on her Home Grown in 1985. The year after trumpeter Woody Shaw put the tune on record and released it in 1997 on his album of the same name.
The funk rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers covered the song during their 1989-90 Mother's Milk Tour, renaming their version "F.U." and adding some lyrics. A live version can be found on their Out In L.A. album. Their bassist, Flea, is a huge fan of Thelonious Monk. Bass fellow Charlie Haden, who was included in Coltrane's record, played the tune with guitarist Jim Hall in 1990, which appeared on their duo record Charlie Haden/Jim Hall in 2014.
Keith Jarrett played the composition in 1991 together with his "Standard Trio" on their live record The Cure. Two years later, in 1993, American jazz trio Medeski Martin & Wood covered the song with “Lively Up Yourself” by Bob Marley in one track, “Bemsha Swing-Lively Up Yourself,” for their album It's a Jungle in Here. Swedish jazz pianist Esbjörn Svensson released it on a tribute album to Monk in 1996 called EST plays Monk. They also issued a live version in their DVD of a Concert at Stockholm in 2002.
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