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Year in Review: The 10 Best Historical Recordings of 2020

Our critics vote on the year's top reissues and vault discoveries

Thelonious Monk 1968
Thelonious Monk and (right) Larry Gales, 1968 (photo: Lee Tanner)

For our 2020 Year in Review section, we calculated the top 40 new releases and top 10 historical/reissue recordings of 2020 based on year-end lists by our writers. They were asked to choose the 10 best new releases and five best historical titles—i.e., albums and box sets consisting primarily of music recorded 10 or more years ago. To see each voter’s ballot, go here. Albums and box sets released between Nov. 10, 2019 and Nov. 13, 2020 were eligible. Some discs may have slipped through the cracks, however, as official release dates shifted or weren’t available.

1. Thelonious Monk: Palo Alto (Impulse!/Sny)

1. Thelonious Monk: <i>Palo Alto</i> (Impulse!/Sny)

Documenting one of the unlikeliest gigs in Monk’s career (possible alternate title: High School Thelonious), this recording sat in a box for more than five decades. That its high-spirited swing can now be heard by all of us is one of the few blessings of 2020. As I wrote in JT’s September issue, this is one of the best live Monk recordings available, maybe even the best, shining a bright light on his perennially underrated mid-’60s quartet. MAC RANDALL

Originally Published