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Portrait of the artist as a young Monk

The Complete Prestige Recordings
The Complete Prestige Recordings
By Thelonious Monk

Prestige / Fantasy Records: 2000

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This review first appeared in the December 15, 2000 edition of the American Reporter.

Thelonious Monk yet casts a large shadow over the jazz landscape, more than a half-century after he first began charting his distinct course, and some twenty years after his death.

Known as much for his prodigious and completely non-traditional piano playing as he was for his wondrously complex compositions, Monk was, along with Charles Mingus, one of the bop age's true misfits.

That was no easy accomplishment in an age of eccentrics. But even in a period when the offbeat was celebrated, Monk's perfectionism had given him a reputation for being somewhat difficult. Nor did he work to ingratiate himself with audiences.

The sides in a new three-disc set from Prestige were laid down from 1944-'54, and are some of his earliest recordings. Many of the tracks here find Monk as a sideman to Miles Davis, Milt Jackson, Sonny Rollins or Coleman Hawkins.

But some of his very earliest recordings as a leader are also here, as are some early versions of his compositions that later became jazz classics: songs like "Trinkle, Tinkle," "Bemsha Swing" and "Think of One."

Few of these tracks are considered the definitive versions of these songs, however. His greatest moments as leader and pianist were to come later (see "The Complete Blue Note Recordings"). What is found here is a study of a genius in development, a man who would offer jazz new possibilities and colors.