Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane are universally recognized as musical demi-gods. The idea of Monk and Coltrane--the genius mentor and the budding genius--on the same bandstand or in the same recording studio is like Julius Erving and Michael Jordan soaring as teammates, or Jean Renoir and Francois Truffaut collaborating on a film.
For an all-too-brief, magical time in 1957, Monk and Coltrane actually did work together every night as part of a quartet led by the uniquely brilliant pianist-composer Monk at New York's now-fabled Five Spot Cafe. And between April and July of that year they made the stunning music contained herein, their complete output in the recording studio. The planets seemed to align for Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-1982) and John William Coltrane (1926-1967) when they joined forces in '57. Coltrane was poised to make a giant leap forward--and ready to learn from one of the masters, Monk. In a Down Beat interview Coltrane said: "Working with Monk brought me close to a musical architect of the highest order. I learned from him in every way."
Some of those answers involved the way in which Coltrane's harmonic acuity developed, expressed via early intimations of his torrential "sheets of sound." With Monk's chords guiding him to places he'd never before visited, Coltrane was now on the path to transcendence. When he is joined by Coleman Hawkins, jazz's father of the tenor saxophone, on a couple of numbers from the epochal septet album Monk's Music, one hears the tenor's past, present, and future (e.g., the master take of "Epistrophy"). And listen raptly to the respective approaches of Hawkins and Coltrane on the two versions of "Ruby, My Dear," one of three signature Monk ballads in this set (the others are "Monk's Mood" and the ever-evolving "Crepuscule with Nellie").
There is such greatness on these two discs, so many wondrous performances (the rhythm team of bassist Wilbur Ware and drummers Art Blakey or Shadow Wilson is especially inspired), and so many fascinating stories about how these masterpieces came into being. Orrin Keepnews, who as producer of the original sessions was present at the creation of every note, has written a superb essay that sets the record straight, clears up long-standing rumors about what did (and did not) go down in the studio, and, above all, lets the listener in on how a genius mentor, a budding genius, and their gifted colleagues went about the business of conceiving a work of art.