An almost forgotten recording, At Carnegie Hall – Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane, is a gem of a record. This album, performed on November 28, 1957, at Carnegie Hall in New York City took place after Coltrane left Miles Davis’ group because of certain disagreements with the trumpeter. From there, Coltrane reached out and joined Thelonious Monk’s quartet. The night was a benefit concert called “Thanksgiving Jazz,” and the Coltrane/Monk group was not the only act of the night; other musical acts included Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, and others.
Monk and Coltrane were arguably at the height of their work during this time. Coltrane was in the era of his performing where sporadic and angular, yet melodic lines were commonplace for the saxophonist. Monk was certainly upholding his method of sparse and acute playing. Though Monk was definitely of the bebop school, his unique musical style had a profound influence on Coltrane’s own improvisational language. There are moments in this performance where you can hear to two feeding off of each other musically, creating a beautiful dialogue of melodic lines, harmonic language, and rhythm.
The recordings themselves were kept in the Library of Congress and were not rediscovered until 2005. The recordings were found by a Library of Congress lab supervisor and were soon brought to Micheal Cuscuna and T.S. Monk to be completely restored. After the release of the recordings, Coltrane and Monk’s collaborations began to be more widely studied, as only one other record was released by the two of them (The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings). Newsweek called the album the “musical equivalent of the discovery of a new Mount Everest.” The record, released on Blue Note Records, is now revered as a classic, topping the previously recorded and released performance by the two jazz giants. The Carnegie Hall recordings reveal an almost grand side of Monk’s playing, drawing out the introduction of the first tune, “Monks Mood.” Coltrane’s performance on these recordings is stellar; focused and well thought out, the performance showcases Coltrane’s own experimental voice while upholding some of the roots of his instrument.
The rhythm section is comprised of Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums. While each musician’s voice can be clearly heard through their own statements on each tune, together the four musicians really exist in a symbiotic relationship with respect to rhythm, harmonic interaction, and communication, allowing for a subtle balance of melodic and harmonic rhythm that goes well beyond just keeping time.