Monk’s only recorded movie soundtrack – from original session tapes, now in remastered sound…

Thelonious Monk – Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 – Sam Records/ SAGA – two vinyls (July 1959) **** (4/22/17 for 2017 Record Store Day):

(Thelonious Monk – piano; Charlie Rouse – tenor sax; Sam Jones – acoustic bass; Art Taylor – drums. With special guest – Barney Wilen – tenor sax)

The story behind the only movie soundtrack recorded by Thelonious Monk is perhaps even more interesting than the actual tracks laid down by Monk in the Summer of 1959.

Monk’s career at that time was a constant roller coaster. He had received well-deserved acclaim and his acceptance by the jazz public was evident. He had won the Downbeat International Critics poll. His quartet had extended engagements at the Five Spot Cafe in the Summer, and Fall of 1958. However, in October of that year he was arrested on trumped up drug charges in Delaware, after an altercation with police, while on the way to a gig in Baltimore. This led to a downward spiral and depression after he lost his cabaret card, putting a halt to NYC club work.

Around this time, Monk had been offered the opportunity to record in France, the soundtrack to Roger Vadim’s film, Les Liasons Dangereuses. Both Vadim and jazz promoter Marcel Romano were fans of Monk, and wanted him to record new music to complement the avant theme of this movie. Monk’s misfortunes caused him to be unable to fulfill the trip, nor record new compositions. Fortunately, a recording date was set in New York on July 27 at the Nola Studios, and his latest quartet of Charlie Rouse, Sam  Jones, and Art Taylor  entered the studio for a single days session. Romano, at the time was the manager of twenty-two-year-old French tenor sensation, Barney Wilen, who was added to the date as the second horn. Six of Monk’s compositions were recorded as well as the gospel hymn, “We’ll Understand It Better By and By.” Included were the rarely recorded “Light Blue” as well as the solo blues improvisation, “Six in One.”

Nearly three hours were recorded including shortened versions, incomplete takes, breakdowns, and rehearsals. Upon completion it took major editing to condense 30 minutes for scene selection and opening credits for the 111-minute completed  film. [Monk never got credit on the original LP release of this soundtrack (or probably in the film either) – Ed.]

Zev Feldman first heard about the seven taped reels from the archives of Marcel Romano when he was visiting Paris in December 2014. He “received a very charming introductory email out of the blue from the head of Sam Records, Mr. Fred Thomas explaining that he and his friend, Mr. Francois Le Xuan of Saga Jazz had located master tapes of a previously unissued studio session of Thelonious Monk made in 1959 by French producer Marcel Romano.”

Producer Zev Feldman writes:

“In December of 2014 I was visiting Paris and received a very charming introductory email out of the blue from the head of Sam Records, Mr. Fred Thomas explaining that he and his friend, Mr. Francois Le Xuan of Saga Jazz (producer of the acclaimed ‘Jazz In Paris’ series) had located master tapes of a previously unissued studio session of Thelonious Monk made in 1959 by a French producer (the one and only Marcel Romano: Miles Davis’ “Ascenseur pour l’échafaud.”) I was obviously extremely intrigued, and I believe my eyeballs literally left my face upon reading the news. Are you kidding me?! A STUDIO album?!! This was an extraordinary find and I wanted to know more.

“We would met up several days later at le Café de l’Olympia over coffee where we got to know each other and discussed this extraordinary find. Fred and Francois were looking for a partner and needed someone who knew the Monk family and was a fellow kindred spirit who shared a passion to present this find in a presentation worthy of a giant. I was honored they were familiar with my work and thought I would be a good fit and collaborator. As we spoke at the cafe, it became clear, we were all three guys cut from the same cloth who loved jazz, an international language in itself.

“Over the next two years, we worked with the Thelonious Monk estate and set out to assemble the cast of voices/words (and photos) to bring together and tell the story of this amazing event in Thelonious Monk’s recorded legacy. It just might be one of the greatest journeys and highlights of my life. I’d like to thank the Thelonious Monk Estate for making this project possible, especially T.S. Monk and Gale Monk. I’d also like to thank the rest of the Monk team including Thelonious Monk’s grandchildren, Sierre Monk & Thelonious Monk IV, plus Team Monk’s Denise Pruitt-Grant, & Julion St. Hill. Finally, I’d like to thank my co-producers Fred Thomas & Francois Le Xuan for inviting me on this journey which I will never forget. And thanks to all of you for supporting this music.”

The tapes were in good shape and with the skills of sound engineer Tom Nola, the tapes were transferred and mastered by Francis Le Xuan. The two LPs were pressed onto 180 gm vinyl by Pallas in Germany. For material of this age, the acoustics are superb especially Sam Jones’ woody bass, and Art Taylor’s bottom end bass drumming.

The addition of Barney Wilen on “Rhythm A Ning,” “Crepuscule with Nellie,” and “Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are” provides a counterpart to Rouse’s bop tenor lines, and fleshes out the familiar Monk tunes. There are a few “misses” included such as “Light Blue,” the newest tune which seems centered around a drum pattern that is repeated for way too long, sounding like Art Taylor testing out the tuning of his drums. The rehearsal tape for this composition (a lengthy 14 minutes) is included on the second LP and confirms Monk’s interest in this exercise.

Though most of this material is well-known already, there still are many treasures, especially Monk’s handling of “Pannonica” in four versions; a much too brief “By and By,” and some tender readings of “Crepuscule with Nellie” Monk’s masterpiece written for his wife.

A huge bonus for fans of Thelonious is the 48 page LP booklet with well written essays from jazz writers and historians, Robin D. G. Kelley, Brian Priestley, and Alain Tercinet, plus never published color and black and white photographs taken at the recording session. The two LP box set will be issued on the upcoming Record Store Day on April 22, and a CD/digital version will follow a month later.

I recommend springing for the LP set  for its superb acoustics and a classy historical booklet that puts this period in Monk’s life into perspective, regarding the trials and tribulations he faced in presenting his musical gifts to a public just beginning to appreciate his original talent.

LP #1:
Side A:

Rhythm-A- Ning 5:47
Crepuscule with Nellie 5:16
Six in One 4:28
Well You Needn’t 4:57

Side B:

Pannonica (solo) 2:27
Pannonica (solo) 2:55
Pannonica (quartet) 6:20
Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are 6:57
Light Blue 2:47
We’ll Understand It Better by and By 1:47

LP #2:
Side C:

Rhythm- A-Ning 5:36
Crepuscule with Nellie(take 1) 2:29
Pannonica 6:53
Light Blue 4:09

Side D:
Well, You Needn’t (unedited) 6:47
Light Blue (making of) 14:13

—Jeff Krow