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PBS: Record Label
Behind the BeatRound Midnight by Thelonious Monk
Round Midnight by Thelonious Monk, Nine special recordings that stood out Thelonious Monk
Other Recording Spotlights
Round Midnight

By Loren Schoenberg, Conductor and Saxophonist

Written by: T. Monk, C. Williams and B. Hanighen
Performed by: Thelonious Monk
Recorded: November 19, 1968


Audio Feature Round Midnight
Recorded November 19, 1968
(Courtesy Columbia/Legacy)


Thelonious Monk created an idiom that is immediately recognizable. In both his piano playing and compositions, he favored spiky dissonances from which he extracted great beauty. Round Midnight was the first of his pieces to be recorded, and for that honor the bandleader and the producer attached their names to the composer's credits. This was common practice during the Swing Era, and Monk tried never to let it happen again.

This brisk solo piano version comes from the latter part of his career. While less ornate than many other versions, it captures the essence of what Monk brought to jazz. A handful of simple motifs are manipulated in such an integrated fashion that they never sound repetitive. Though it is less apparent during a ballad performance such as this, Monk was also one of the music's great humorists who operated on many different rhetorical levels simultaneously. This quality, along with his penchant for abstraction, is where you can hear the tremendous influence Art Tatum had on Monk. They were both members of the uptown and downtown club scene in the early 1940s. There can be no doubt that a voracious listener like Monk would have had his ears wide open to what people like Tatum and the guitarist Charlie Christian were doing. Monk played extensively with Christian and once said that he had ruined him for other guitarists. And like another of his mentors, Duke Ellington, Monk had the ability to glean the essence of another person's composition, and turn it into something that sounded like one of his own creations.