Thelonious Monk Paris 1969, is a fascinating and important late-career document of the legendary jazz pianist and composer in performance with his Quartet at the Salle Pleyel concert hall in Paris, France on December 15, 1969. Beautifully captured on B&W film, the concert also featured a surprise guest appearance from renowned drummer Philly Joe Jones. Also included is a rare on-camera interview with Monk that was conducted by the French bassist Jacques Hess after the concert.
“The 1969 Paris concert captures the power and the undiminished beauty of Monk’s music, reminding us that even as his body aged his musical imagination knew no limits,” writes Monk scholar Robin Kelley in his liner notes essay.
Monk eventually found two young musicians – bassist Nate Hygelund and drummer Paris Wright – to fill out the Quartet with his longtime tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse. Luckily the inexperienced rhythm section had some time to gel before hitting the stage in Paris with a lengthy engagement in London followed by stops in Germany and Italy. By the time they reached the Pleyel the band was in fine form, which made for a triumphant return for Monk to the very stage he had made his Parisian debut on in 1954 in front of a hostile audience who felt that Monk was too avant-garde. 15 years later the situation could not have been more different with an enthusiastic audience and the concert being broadcast on television.
In addition to rollicking Quartet versions of Monk classics such as “I Mean You,” “Straight No Chaser,” and “Blue Monk,” the set also includes three stunning solo piano performances on “Don’t Blame Me,” “I Love You Sweetheart Of All My Dreams,” and “Crepuscule With Nellie.” However, an undeniable highlight of the concert was when the veteran drummer Philly Joe Jones who was an expat living in Paris at the time comes from backstage to borrow the sticks from the 17-year-old Wright, providing a palpable spark on Monk’s “Nutty.”