The Definitive Thelonious Monk on Prestige and Riverside covers a broad span of the '50s, beginning with trio sessions in New York featuring bassist Gary Mapp and drummer Art Blakey in October 1952 and stretching to sextet dates in San Francisco with trumpeter Joe Gordon, tenor saxophonists Harold Land and Charlie Rouse, bassist John Ore and drummer Billy Higgins in April 1960.
"This is some of the most amazing Thelonious Monk on record," says Nick Phillips, Concord Music Group's Vice President of Jazz and Catalog A&R and the producer of the Definitive series. "Whether he's playing a standard or one of his own compositions, he sounds uniquely like Thelonious Monk and nobody else. All of the tunes in this collection that Monk wrote have become jazz standards. Conversely, he plays standard tunes like `Caravan' and `Tea for Two' with such distinctive genius that you'd swear he had written them himself."
But Monk was no overnight sensation. He made "a long, slow climb from underground to mainstream adulation, and the ten-year period represented by this collection captures that ascent," says veteran music journalist Ashley Kahn in his liner notes. "The one constant -- creatively, promotionally, and economically -- was his recordings. First for Prestige Records from 1952 to '54, then for the Riverside label from '55 to '61, Monk was afforded the chance to create new music and work with a number of significant jazz peers in a number of contexts -- from solo piano, to trios, to quartets, even a big band . . . Most importantly, what Monk composed and recorded during the '50s amount to the definitive versions of some of the most enduring, joyous melodies in modern jazz."