Brilliant Corners

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Brilliant Corners
Studio album by
ReleasedApril 4, 1957 (April 4, 1957)
RecordedOctober 9, October 15, and December 7, 1956
GenreHard bop
ProducerOrrin Keepnews
Thelonious Monk chronology
The Unique Thelonious Monk
Brilliant Corners
Thelonious Himself

Brilliant Corners is a studio album by American jazz musician Thelonious Monk. It was his third album for Riverside Records,[1] and the first, for this label, to include his own compositions. The complex title track required over a dozen takes in the studio.


The album was recorded in three sessions in late 1956 with two different quintets. "Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-Are" and "Pannonica", on which Monk played the celeste, were recorded on October 9 with saxophonists Ernie Henry and Sonny Rollins, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer Max Roach. The former composition was titled as a phonetic rendering of Monk's exaggerated pronunciation of "Blue Bolivar Blues", which referred to the Bolivar Hotel where Pannonica de Koenigswarter resided; Monk had met her during his first trip to Europe in 1954.[1]

On October 15, Monk attempted to record the title track with the same band during a four-hour session. The complexity of the title track became a challenge for Monk's sidemen, who attempted twenty-five takes, and led to tension between him and Henry, who nearly broke down mentally, and Pettiford, who exchanged harsh words with Monk during the session. Monk tried to make it easier on Henry by not playing during his alto solo.[1] During one of the takes, producer Orrin Keepnews and others in the control room could not hear Pettiford's playing and checked his bass microphone for a malfunction, but ultimately realized that he was pantomiming his playing.[2] Without a completed single take, Keepnews ultimately pieced together the album version from multiple takes.[1]

On December 7, "Bemsha Swing" was recorded with Paul Chambers on bass and trumpeter Clark Terry, who replaced Henry, and Monk recorded a solo piano version of "I Surrender, Dear".[1]


The title track has an unconventional song structure that deviates from both standard song form and blues structures, as well as from Monk's African-American music roots. Its ternary form employs an eight-bar A section, followed by a seven-bar B section, and a modified seven-bar A section, and features a double-time theme in each second chorus and complex rhythmic accents.[1]

"Bemsha Swing" was the only composition on the album that Monk had recorded in a previous version.


Professional ratings
Review scores
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[3]
Tom HullA[4]
The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings[6]

According to Down Beat magazine, Brilliant Corners was the most critically acclaimed album of 1957.[7] Nat Hentoff, the magazine's editor, gave it five stars in a contemporary review and called it "Riverside's most important modern jazz LP to date."[8] Jazz writer David H. Rosenthal later called it a "classic" hard bop session.[9] Music critic Robert Christgau said that, along with his 1958 live album Misterioso, Brilliant Corners represents Monk's artistic peak.[10] In his five-star review of the album, Allmusic's Lindsay Planer wrote that it "may well be considered the alpha and omega of post-World War II American jazz. No serious jazz collection should be without it."[11] Awarding a maximum four-star rating, The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings included the album in its suggested “core collection” of essential recordings.[6]


In 2003, Brilliant Corners was one of fifty recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. It has also been included in the reference book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, with reviewer Andrew Gilbert saying it "marked Monk's return as composer of the first order."[12] Because of its historical significance the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.[13]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Thelonious Monk except where noted

Side One

  1. "Brilliant Corners" - 7:42
  2. "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are" - 13:24

Side Two

  1. "Pannonica" - 8:50
  2. "I Surrender, Dear" (Harry Barris) - 5:25
  3. "Bemsha Swing" (Thelonious Monk, Denzil Best) - 7:42




  • Orrin Keepnews – producer
  • Jack Higgins – engineer
  • Joe Tarantino – mastering


  1. ^ a b c d e f Mathieson 2012, p. 176.
  2. ^ Mathieson 2012, p. 177.
  3. ^ Larkin, Colin (2007). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195313734.
  4. ^ Hull, Tom (n.d.). "Jazz (1940–50s) (Reference)". Retrieved March 4, 2020.
  5. ^ "THELONIOUS MONK - BRILLIANT CORNERS ★★★★". Jazzwise. August 16, 2019. Retrieved November 24, 2010.
  6. ^ a b Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2008). The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (9th ed.). Penguin. p. 1021. ISBN 978-0-141-03401-0.
  7. ^ "Thelonius Monk: Brilliant Corners – 1957's most praised LP". Down Beat. 24 (21–26). Chicago: 27. December 12, 1957.
  8. ^ van der Bliek et al. 2001, p. 89.
  9. ^ Rosenthal 1993, p. 132.
  10. ^ Christgau, Robert (December 13, 2009). "Not So Misterioso". The Barnes & Noble Review. Archived from the original on May 11, 2013. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  11. ^ Planer, Lindsay. "Brilliant Corners – Thelonious Monk". Allmusic. Retrieved July 29, 2013.
  12. ^ Dimery, Robert (2009). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Octopus Publishing Group, London. p. 32. ISBN 9781844036240. Retrieved September 23, 2012.
  13. ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame". Archived from the original on February 19, 2011. Retrieved April 25, 2011.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]