The Story of Thelonious Monk’s Found Palo Alto Recording, According to Zev Feldman
Zev Feldman posted July 22, 2020
I originally met Thelonious Monk’s son and estate representative, T.S. Monk, way back in 1991 when I was an 18-year-old production coordinator for the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz (now called the Hancock Institute of Jazz). I’ve been a fan of Monk’s music as far back as I can remember and that was a magical time in my life.
It wasn’t until 2010, at the “Giants of Jazz” concert in South Orange, New Jersey honoring Bob Cranshaw, that we met up again and began talking about what tapes T.S. had of his father’s that could make for an interesting release for Resonance Records, the Los Angeles-based boutique archival label of which I’m co-president. I was taken by T.S.’s charisma and passion for preserving his father’s legacy, and I hoped that we could find something special to work on together.
Fast-forward to 2016, and here comes this long lost studio session from 1960, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, from my friends Fred Thomas at Sam Records and Francois Le Xuan at Saga Jazz in France. This was the soundtrack to Roger Vadim’s film of the same name and it was a really big deal that this recording was discovered. They needed to clear the rights with the Thelonious Monk Estate and I was happy to make the introduction for them. Liaisons had an exquisitely designed package (2LP edition and deluxe 2CD set) which went on to garner tremendous acclaim in the press.
Thelonious Monk 1964 Monterey Jazz FestivalBy Jim Marshall | 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival
From that point on, it’s been an incredible journey getting to know the Monk family more and get this amazing music into the farthest reaches of the globe. After the tremendous success of Liaisons, I was keen on finding another Monk project that could match some of that album’s captivating energy.
Another such recording revealed itself pretty quickly when concert promoter Danny Scher brought to the Monk family’s attention a recording he had of the Thelonious Monk quartet with Charlie Rouse, Larry Gales, and Ben Riley captured at Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, California on October 27, 1968. The musical performances on this recording are riveting, but the backstory on how the performance came about is equally fascinating.
Danny Scher was a 15-year-old Jewish kid in high school looking to book a benefit concert for the international committee at the school. The fact that he was able to book one of the biggest Black jazz icons in the world to perform at his high school at that time was miraculous. There are many sub-stories involved, like how the police told Danny to get out of East Palo Alto, where he was putting up posters, because it was too dangerous for him to be there; and that East Palo Alto was in the process of having a referendum on renaming the city Nairobi after the Kenyan capital; and that the concert was recorded by one of the janitors at the school.
Thelonious Monk and Charlie Rouse 1969 Monterey Jazz Festival By Veryl Oakland | 1969 Monterey Jazz Festival
Sometimes projects just aren’t meant for certain labels, and Palo Alto certainly falls under that category. The Monk family told me about the Palo Alto recording in 2017 and we started working towards a deal with Resonance that didn’t materialize. From there, I introduced the family to my friends at Universal Music Group and they became engaged in conversations about a release with the Verve Label Group on Impulse Records!
One day I got a call from Douglas Holloway, the business representative for the Thelonious Monk Estate. They were ready to proceed with Palo Alto with Verve. The family wanted me to be involved and negotiated to have me as a co-producer with a friend of many years, Ken Druker. I was honored and excited to be brought in like that, as neither the family nor Verve had to do that for me. It meant a lot to me, and I suspect one of the reasons they asked me to stick around was because they knew how incredibly passionate I was about these recordings and that I would be letting each and every person I knew just how strongly I felt about that.
The Palo Alto recording is especially important for me because although it took a long time to get to this point, with many ups and downs along the way, the fact that it’s coming out now at this racially tumultuous time in our country’s history I think is serendipitous. It’s the kind of recording that can really be a shining example of how music can have a transformative effect and bring people together in ways that other mediums simply can’t do as well.
I’m grateful to be able to wake up every morning on a mission to uncover important, previously unissued music from jazz masters such as Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery and so many others. The fact that these Thelonious Monk recordings from 50 to 60 years ago are out there making their way around the world and telling these fascinating stories is deeply fulfilling for me.
Zev Feldman’s Essential Monk Albums
I’ve been having my mind blown by Thelonious Monk’s music since I was a teenager and I’ve accumulated a lot of Monk LPs in my collection over the years. Here’s my list, in no particular order, of “Essential Monk” selections. I’m proud to have been a part of the first two releases on the list, and it does my heart good to know that decades and decades later, we’re still making new discoveries that add new chapters of the legacy of the great Thelonious Monk.