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Arts + CultureMusicSF Jazz Fest lifts off with guiding spirit Thelonious...

SF Jazz Fest lifts off with guiding spirit Thelonious Monk

Online 38th annual cornucopia of sounds features rarely seen 1985 documentary of the master, who's been having a moment

Newly sourced Thelonious Monk live documents have been dropping over the past couple of years with an unorthodox whimsy usually reserved for a Tik Tok discovery. 

We’re not talking reissues, compilations or anthologies…. Real live full concerts, where Monk, one of the all time master composers and pianists, was being vintage Monk. Except we missed it. These are sacred occasions the public did not get to hear until 50 some odd years later. Moments where intellect, magic, and improvisation lined up at the hands of an original jazz master. Similar to photos snapped with just the right filter, that got lost in your device. Something uncommon, that never hit the ‘Gram.

Mønk, recorded in 1963 and released on the british audiophile imprint Gearbox in 2018 and Palo Alto (Live) released on the Impulse/Sony label in 2020 captures the jazz titan mid-career and towards the end, respectively, still surprising everybody except himself. The ’63 Copenhagen date, recorded at Copenhagen’s Odd Fellow Palæet, with Monk’s strongest quartet lineup—tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist John Ore, drummer Frankie Dunlop—is peak Monk, shining at his brightest.

The October 27, 1968 Palo Alto concert captures a unit circling around their fearless leader and knocking it out of the park, despite a turbulent time for the lion in winter. Damn it all though, if a performance in a high school auditorium was going to lower his spirits. Luckily enough a school janitor (not a sound board operator, a school janitor) captured those animated 47 minutes on tape.

But even these random peeks into what got missed somehow are not the only reminders, merely just little thunderbolt pokes from the past. Jogging our blocked COVID memory of his percussive, frisky playing style, where time-stretch abilities relied on omitting formal logic and mastering improvisation in the moment. There is a life lesson in that. These moves got passed down to (or snatched up by) contemporary jazz-funk liege Robert Glasper, and syncopated broken-beat sovereign of the UK Kaidi Tatham. Assuring us all. If the piano has 88 keys, Monk is never that far away. 

This year’s San Francisco Jazz Festival (June 4-25) is going virtual again, and the rarely seen 1985 documentary, Music In Monk Time: A Retrospective Tribute to Thelonious Sphere Monk, will be shown twice, in conjunction with two dozen exhilarating archival performances.

Presented by SFJAZZ, the 38th annual event will feature such artists as Melissa Aldana, Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band, Jazzmeia Horn, Chucho Valdés, Michel Camilo, Marcus Shelby, Harold López-Nussa, and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Fans must be SFJAZZ members to watch the programming. (Digital memberships start at $5.)

Check out the entertainment:

Harold López-Nussa Quartet & Special Guests: 7pm, June 3; rebroadcast 6pm, June 6

Melissa Aldana Quartet: 5pm, June 4; rebroadcast 10am, June 5

Music in Monk Time: A Retrospective Tribute to Thelonious Sphere Monk: 7pm, June 10; rebroadcast 6pm, June 13

Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band: 5pm June 11; rebroadcast 10am, June 12

SFJAZZ Family Matinee with Marcus Shelby Orchestra’s Duke Ellington Tribute: 11am, June 13

Jazzmeia Horn: 5 p.m. June 18; rebroadcast 10am, June 19

Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s “The Just & The Blind”: 7pm, June 19

Marcus Shelby Quartet with Angela Davis: Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: 11am, June 20

SFJAZZ Family Matinee with SFJAZZ High School All-Stars Virtual Summer Concert: 5pm, June 24

Chucho Valdés, Michel Camilo & Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Tribute to Ernesto Lecuona: 5pm, June 25; rebroadcast 10am, June 26

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.


  1. Well, actually, we did have to wait some years, until this was all torrents on the internet in like 2001, twenty years ago.

    Thank you, internet for every Sun Ra record ever!


    “Liege?” “Sovereign?” “Lion in Winter?”

    No need to express things in royalty terms. Or is there a need?


    But have a good time at the festival, everyone!

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