Legend has it that a good piano inspired Thelonious Monk’s 1957 performance at Carnegie Hall with John Coltrane, a date that was famously unearthed and released on Blue Note in 2005. The 88s provided for the Newport Jazz Festival two years later surely weren’t bad either. This set, from that evening, begins with a take of “In Walked Bud” in which the pianist solos for six choruses. The first few feature standard Monkisms: an out-of-time restatement of the theme, snatches of past and future Monk compositions, short riffs followed by open bars. But with that out of the way, he thinks outside of the box in chorus six, just long enough to impress before wrapping up the tune. He also breaks new funky ground in “Well, You Needn’t.”
As Bill Milkowski’s liner notes for this vinyl release point out, Monk was making history in ’59. In February of that year, he gave his Town Hall tentet concert featuring Hall Overton’s arrangements. A month prior to Newport, that ensemble’s rhythm section (bassist Sam Jones, drummer Arthur Taylor) and tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse recorded 5 by Monk by 5, aided by cornet player Thad Jones. The five tunes here have been heard live in several 1960s performances, but Jones and Taylor add a spring to them that wasn’t always felt with Monk’s Columbia-era quartets. Taylor does a killer Art Blakey imitation on the rims on “Rhythm-a-Ning.” Rouse too sounds inspired, blowing his own six choruses on “Bud,” repeating ideas but also double-timing some lines with engaging results. The way he conveys the romance of “Crepuscule With Nellie” proves why the song never needed any solos.