Thelonious Monk has not been missing from the recent bumper crop of archival jazz releases. His 1959 soundtrack recordings for Les Liaisons Dangereuses saw the light of day in 2017; Mønk, a 1963 concert recorded in Copenhagen, followed in 2018. On July 31, Impulse! Records’ Palo Alto joins the list of newly discovered Monk.
Palo Alto documents a performance by the piano legend and his quartet—tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist Larry Gales, and drummer Ben Riley—at Palo Alto High School in California on October 27, 1968. The event was organized by Danny Scher, then a 16-year-old jazz lover getting an early start on a successful career as a West Coast concert promoter. (At the time, Monk was booked for a three-week residency at the Jazz Workshop in nearby San Francisco; Scher and his brother ferried the quartet down the bay for the Palo Alto concert.)
While this and the high-school setting might suggest a low-fidelity approach, the quality of the recording—made, rather bizarrely, by the school’s janitor—is remarkable; the creak of Monk’s piano bench is audible during his solo spot.
The concert was an important moment for Palo Alto in the turbulent social and political year of 1968. Racial tensions were simmering, due in part to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April and to a pending referendum to change the name of East Palo Alto, the predominantly black neighboring town, to “Nairobi.”
“Neither Thelonious nor sixteen-year-old Danny Scher fully grasped what this concert meant for race relations in the area,” wrote Robin D.G. Kelley of the event in his landmark biography Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. “For one beautiful afternoon, blacks and whites, P.A. and East P.A., buried the hatchet and gathered to hear ‘Blue Monk,’ ‘Well, You Needn’t,’ and ‘Don’t Blame Me.’”
Pre-order for Palo Alto (along with a stream of one track, “Epistrophy”) is available here.