Nina Simone (1933-2003) is certainly not an unknown singer. She is well-liked for her singing style, her voice for social issues, and her appeal to things “hip.” And I also really like the way she played piano; she’s somewhere between Horace Silver and Terry Adams in my appreciation. Her piano playing combined a lively and quirky right hand with a soulful left. Her playing is foregrounded on the 1961 Roulette title, At the Village Gate. I recommend “Just in Time” for your playlist, but this title is full of good tunes done well. Dig her playing on “Bye Bye Blackbird,” which is one of my favorite versions of this standard and becomes an all-out rocker.
About four months ago I posted with the opinion that Monk. was my favorite Thelonious Monk album. I stand by that opinion . . . and if I was forced to take but a single Monk album to a lonely place, my new choice would probably be Brilliant Corners. Recorded in 1956 and remastered in 1987, Brilliant Corners has a great lineup, featuring the saxophone of Sonny Rollins and the drums (including tympany!) of Max Roach. The tunes are “Brilliant Corners,” “Pannonica,” “Bemsha Swing,” and two others.
According to original liner notes, the music was very difficult for the gifted musicians to play. Maybe for this reason the album won’t be as accessible to many listeners as other Monk offerings. But it’s still fun, and I’d be just plain wrong not to recommend it to the curious.
I can’t remember the jazz writer who compared Horace Silver to Jean Baptiste Camille Corot on grounds of their respective craftsmanship, but his idea helped inform my appreciation of Silver’s recordings. When I think of jazz pianists in the context of craftsmanship, two lesser-known artists come to mind: Richie Beirach and Sir Roland Hanna. Hanna’s Everything I Love (2002) is astonishing, and the liner notes reveal Hanna just started playing, selecting tunes on the fly, and recording them in first-and-only takes! It’s a marvelous collection, and I especially recommend “You’d be So Nice To Come Home To” for your playlist. His version of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” will please many listeners as well.
Where to begin choosing a favorite? Monk’s extensive discography has been exhaustively examined and rated. I own plenty of albums and CDs from this jazz icon. And there’s one disc I would include in a desert-island collection: Monk. on Columbia, from 1964. This recording is the first of his later quartet including Charlie Rouse, Larry Gales, and Ben Riley. What keeps me smiling through listenings close or distracted is the program and its pacing. “Pannonica” is here (two takes), and so is the wonderful, odd “Children’s Song (That Old Man),” and so is a beautiful solo “I Love You (Sweetheart of all My Dreams).” All selections are taken at natural tempos, and the transition from one to the next is satisfying. I think this might be the disc I recommend to the inexperienced listener. The vinyl and CD covers can be different; look for CL2291 (vinyl) or CK86564 (CD.)