June 2005

Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane: Sweet and Lovely

In early April the Library of Congress (LOC) announced the discovery of never-released recordings featuring Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane performing at Carnegie Hall. The tapes, discovered among other material to be digitized as part of the Library's continuing audio-preservation program, are from a 1957 performance recorded by the Voice of America (VOA) for broadcast overseas but which were never heard in the United States. The tapes also include performances from that same evening by Ray Charles, Sonny Rollins, the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra and the Zoot Sims Quartet with Chet Baker.

Larry Appelbaum, senior studio engineer/ supervisor of the Library's Magnetic Recording Laboratory and the LOC's jazz specialist, discovered the music amid the Library's nearly 50,000 VOA tapes that are being systematically categorized and digitized. "Among the tapes in a recent batch selected for digitization were eight 10-inch open-reel tapes labeled 'Carnegie Hall Jazz,' with the date November 29, 1957," Appelbaum said. "The back of one of the tape boxes included a note that said 'T. Monk.' When I played it, I recognized Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane playing tenor saxophone. The announcements by Willis Conover from the stage that night confirmed the lineup."

Appelbaum, also a JazzTimes contributor, described the tapes as "a kind of holy grail for scholars and researchers" and said that several Coltrane scholars had searched for the tapes for years but were never able to find them because they were never properly categorized or preserved.

The tapes feature about 55 minutes of Monk and Coltrane as well as the early- and late-show performances by all of the groups that performed that evening. The Monk Quartet with Coltrane played "Evidence," "Monk's Mood," "Crepuscule With Nellie," "Nutty," "Epistrophy," "Bye-Ya," "Sweet and Lovely" and "Blue Monk."

"It's one of the things that makes my job so interesting after all these years and why I love working at the Library," Appelbaum said. "It also reminds us why it's so important to preserve these unique materials. This music is too good to just sit on a shelf."

While the recordings are not currently available to the general public, Appelbaum said he is optimistic that a record label will eventually release the music.

The announcement about the VOA tapes was made as part of a press briefing on the Library of Congress' selection of 50 recordings for the National Recording Registry. Among the recordings deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" are Coleman Hawkins' "Body and Soul," Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" and Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca."

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