Blue Note Records, in conjunction with Thelonious Records, will release Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, a never-before-heard jazz classic that documents one of the most historically important working bands in the history of the music, a band that was both short-lived and, until now, thought to be frustratingly under-recorded. The concert, which took place at the famed New York hall on November 29, 1957, was preserved on newly-discovered tapes made by Voice of America for a later radio broadcast that were located at the Library of Congress in Washington DC earlier this year.
1957 was a pivotal year in the lives and careers of both Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. For Monk, 1957 began auspiciously. For several years the pianist had been unable to perform in New York City’s clubs and concert halls due to the loss of his cabaret card, but with the help of his manager Harry Colomby and the patroness Nica de Koenigswarter, he regained his card early that year, and immediately began working again around town.
Monk had been on the verge of a breakthrough since 1955. Having been instrumental in the birth of bebop as the house pianist at the Harlem club Minton’s Playhouse, as well as playing in the bands of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Monk was given his first opportunity to make his own records as a leader by Alfred Lion of Blue Note Records in 1946. After making a series of early recordings for Blue Note and then Prestige, he began to reach a wider audience upon his move to Riverside in 1955.
However, due to Monk’s inability to perform in New York at that time, and his unwillingness to travel, mainstream recognition was still out of reach. So, when his cabaret card was reinstated in 1957, he wasted no time in getting back on track. His first gig was an open-ended engagement at the Five Spot Café in the East Village for which he hired a quartet that included the tenor saxophonist John Coltrane.
For Coltrane, 1957 began with the lowest point of his career. He had been lifted from obscurity two years previous when Miles Davis hired him into his quintet, but by late-1956 Coltrane’s heroin addiction had started to interfere with his performance. After several warnings, Davis finally ran out of patience, and in April 1957 fired the saxophonist for his unreliability. Having squandered his best job to-date, he returned home to Philadelphia, and in May he kicked his addiction cold turkey. Years later, Coltrane would also describe this as a moment of spiritual reawakening, a path that would ultimately lead to perhaps his greatest achievement, A Love Supreme. And so it was with a renewed spirit and dedication that Coltrane returned to New York in the late-Spring/early-Summer of 1957, began attending Monk’s informal workshops at his apartment, and eventually joined Monk’s quartet at the Five Spot in late-July.
The Five Spot engagement was a triumph. The club was packed with lines around the block every night of what would become a five-month engagement. Monk was finally given the recognition that he long deserved, and Coltrane, inspired by Monk’s music and pedagogy, began developing at an astounding rate. “My time with Monk brought me into association with a supreme architect of music,” Coltrane said in a Down Beat article. Coltrane also made his first great record, Blue Train, for Blue Note Records in September 1957, just two months before the Carnegie Hall concert.
Which brings us to November 29, 1957. Monk and Coltrane had been working together for a solid four months by the time they set foot on stage at Carnegie Hall that night. By all accounts, Coltrane had been tentative early on in the Five Spot run, challenged at first by Monk’s quirky melodies and chord changes, but the 51 minutes of music captured here in pristine sound quality present the quartet, which was completed by bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik & drummer Shadow Wilson, in to