John Beasley’s MONK’estra
GRAMMY®- and Emmy-nominated recording artist John Beasley leads a smashing big band project MONK’estra. The feel and sound of MONK’estra captures the spirit of Thelonious Monk’s singular style with its off-beat melodies, humor, strange beauty and unbounded swing in fresh arrangements flavored with hints of New Orleans, hip-hop, Afro-Cuban, contemporary and atmospheric rhythms and colors.
“Some of the most mesmerizing big band music of recent memory.”
Beasley—a far-ranging pianist, composer, and arranger who has performed with Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Dianne Reeves, Steely Dan, Marcus Miller, Christian McBride —is easily one of the most versatile musicians in jazz. He leads a sparkling career as a bandleader, a first-call keyboardist, composer and arranger for bands and film and television projects. He is the Music Director for the Thelonious Monk Institute, International Jazz Day concerts. In 2016, he earned an Emmy nomination for “Jazz at the White House” for Best Musical Direction on ABC TV.
MONK’estra Vol. 2 was released in Sep 2017 to immediate critical acclaim earning 4.5/5 stars in DownBeat. Vol 1 was Beasley’s 11th recording which earned two 2017 GRAMMY nominations for Best Large Jazz Ensemble and Best Arrangement for “Ask Me Now”.
MONK’estra re-imagines Monk’s compositions with an eye to the future with a killer contemporary big band that pays loving tribute to the master’s music while infusing it with contemporary harmonies, unstoppable grooves, and a contagious sense of fun.
YouTube: http://bit.ly/MONKestraV2 and http://bit.ly/monkestra
Venues Dizzy’s/Lincoln Center NY, Walt Disney Hall CA, SFJAZZ, Jazz Standard NY, San Diego Symphony/Bayside CA, Carmel Center IN, Chicago Symphony IL, Palladium IN, Jefferson Center VA, Ford Amphitheatre LA, Jazz Bakery LA, LACMA LA, Blue Whale LA, Bijou Theatre TN
Festivals Monterey, Playboy LA, Detroit, Purdue, Portland, Kingsborough Jazz Fest, Playboy, Central Ave Jazz Festival
Global North Sea Jazz Festival, Ronnie Scotts London, JazzFestival Berlin, Blue Note Tokyo, Korea PyeongChang Festival
Igor Butman Jazz Orch (Moscow + St Petersburg), Brussels Jazz Orch (Brussels: Bozar + Antwerp: deSingel), Sweden Blue House: Stockholm Concert Hall, HR Big Band (Germany: Sendessal)
Juilliard, Rutgers, Cal State LA, CoDarts/Rotterdam Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music,
U of South Florida, JAM Music Lab, Vienna
MONKestra Collective of Musicians from East Coast, West Coast and Europe
TRUMPET: Bijon Watson, Brian Lynch, Brian Swartz, Dontae Winslow, Rashawn Ross, Scott Wendholt, Shawn Edmonds, Jamie Hovorka, Brandyn Phillips, Till Broner
TROMBONE: Frank Lacy, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Ryan Dragon, Lemar Guillary, Francisco Torres, Wendell Kelly, Steve Hughes, James Burton
SAX: Bob Sheppard, Greg Tardy, Tom Luer, Tommy Peterson, Dave Reikenberg, Adam Kolker, Oliver Santana, Steve Wilson, Danny Janklow, Erena Terakuba
BASS: Benjamin J. Shepherd, Ben Williams, James Genus, Rickey Minor, Reggie Hamilton
DRUMS: Terreon Gully, Peter Erskine, Gene Coye, Kendrick Scott, Gary Novak, Tony Austin
CONDUCTOR/ARRANGER/PIANO/SYNTHESIZERS/MELODICA: John Beasley
Guest Artists and other MONK’estras: Dianne Reeves, Gary Burton, Regina Carter, Gregoire Maret, Kamasi Washington, Pedrito Martinez, Conrad Herwig
Album and concert REVIEWS
MONK’estra Volume 2 – 2017
Downbeat 4.5/5 stars (October 2017)
“In the Monastic One’s centennial year, pianist John Beasley hits us dead center with studio-smart takes on Monk’s deep book. His new album features rapid-fire surprises, spiky asides and a quirky sense of truthful swing.”
The New York Times
“with his 16-piece band, Mr. Beasley laces 10 of those crooked themes into funky, often-Caribbean rhythms, pulling them into today and back to a taproot. Mr. Beasley is himself a mutable pianist and crafty arranger, and this album — like the first volume — carves up and dissects Monk’s famous bebop melodies. …the conversation gets special on Mr. Beasley’s rambunctious solo.”
“John Beasley’s Monk’estra, a follow-up to last year’s Grammy nominee. Beasley and band swing through and often revamp Monk tunes. The trumpeter Dontae Winslow raps over a breakbeat–enhanced “Brake’s Sake,” “I Mean You” turns into a funk jam, and Regina Carter’s violin makes “Crepuscule With Nellie” somehow even more noirish.
Financial Times 4 stars
“…hip-hop merges with swing and sensuous Ellingtonia sits on a sparse contemporary pulse. Impressively, the balance between surprise, subtlety and heft is just right.”
The Arts Fuse
“His orchestrations are always fascinating, the performances both precise and relaxed. Beasley doesn’t tame Monk or make him uncharacteristically pretty. (One of the compositions on Volume 2 is “Ugly Beauty.”) He’s deferential, but also innovative in sharp ways that Monk fans, and fans of big band music, should appreciate. Volume 2′s session is vividly recorded.
It’s Monk and it’s not. He seems to be pointing out things in Monk that we hadn’t previously noticed.”
Straight No Chaser
“A master arranger, Beasley put together a who’s who of musicians to turn the Thelonius Monk library of tunes into something more innovative and thought provoking than they had been in years. MONK’estra, Volume Two is here, and it was well worth the wait. …this is an album that rewards a careful listener at every turn.”
Hot House, NY
“A perfect example of this musical creativity is “Crepuscule with Nellie,” a haunting ballad brought to life. Some of the most creative re-imaginings of Thelonious Monk music here come from John’s addition of rhythms and time signatures not found on the originals.
It turns a lesser known composition [Brake’s Sake] into a compelling contemporary protest anthem. MONK’estra’s renditions of Thelonious’ tunes bring new insights about them and appreciation for them.”
New York City Jazz Record
“This is a big, ambitious endeavor, but one that Beasley and his MONK’estra colleagues pull off with panache, serving notice that 100 years after his birth, the music of Thelonious Monk is alive and well. Beasley is back for a second set of radically reimagined big-band readings of Thelonious Monk compositions. Beasley refuses to settle for mere by-the-numbers remakes of historic material.”
San Diego Tribune
The 11-song album features Beasley’s ingenious arrangements…one of the most acclaimed big bands currently performing.”
“MONK’estra, Vol 2 which masterfully applies a rich orchestral palette across an array of modern infectious rhythms, while discovering new dimensions of the classic compositions that emerge directly from their deepest jazz roots.”
Downbeat @ Monterey: Jazz Festival (Sep 17, 2017)
“Pianist John Beasley’s MONK’estra big band was an ideal vehicle to do a deep dive into Monk’s influential compositions. Beasley’s MONK’estra proved that a trifecta of legendary source material, creative arrangements and top-flight instrumentalists is unbeatable.”
Downbeat @North Sea Jazz Festival (July 2017)
” classic tunes were taken for a wild ride by pianist-bandleader John Beasley’s 15-piece MONK’estra big band”
Financial Times @ Ronnie Scotts, London (July 2017)
5 stars: “MONK’estra brought the project thrillingly to life with their razor-sharp ensemble work and rhythmic authenticity.”
Guardian @ Ronnie Scotts, London (July 2017)
“John Beasley and his MONK’estra pull off that tough task with devotion, vision and awesome technique. Beasley steered the crowd’s hand-clapping through the treacherous groove shifts.”
The Times UK @ Ronnie Scotts, London (July 2017)
4 stars: “No other band tackles Thelonious Monk’s classic material with as much flair and mischief, highlighting the wit at the heart of his music.”
Irish Times by Cormac Larkin 4 stars
Here’ a second salvo from top LA composer and arranger John Beasley and his 15-piece MONK’estra – with guest appearances from violinist Regina Carter, saxophonist Kamasai Washington, and a scorching opening rap from trumpeter Dontae Winslow. Like last year’s much-admired Vol 1, it strikes a perfect balance between the character of the originals and the spirit of our times.
International Review of Music by Michael Katz
The pros took over next, with MONKestra, John Beasley. Beasley’s group is a mostly-LA large ensemble, and like Regina Carter’s Ella tribute, Beasley shied away from Monk’s most famous tunes (though he has recorded “Round Midnight” and “Epistrophy” on his Volume 1 CD.) Monk’s work lends itself to all sorts of interpretations, but most of his own performances were in small ensembles, usually featuring one horn player – not that it’s ever stopped large groups, from Woody Herman to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Trying to get the whole band involved can sometimes get a little dense; but this performance, featuring tunes from the just-released Volume 2 CD, was tight throughout, while still managing to explore Monk’s often labyrinthine themes. “I Mean You” was an effective opener, a crisp arrangement of the familiar Monk theme. An “Ugly Betty/Pannonica” medley featured a weaving solo articulated by Francisco Torres on trombone.
The indomitable Bob Sheppard, who was featured on both alto and soprano, took the lead on “Gallop’s Gallop.” The band featured stellar solo work throughout — Brian Schwarz and Bijon Watson on trumpet, along with Tom Luer on tenor sax for “Criss Cross.” A highlight of the afternoon was Featured Artist Regina Carter making a surprise guest appearance on “Ask Me Now,” displaying more of her incredible range.
Volkskrant, Friday Sep 22 2017
Keyboardist and arranger John Beasley has been quite successful with his orchestral arrangements of the work of pianist Thelonious Monk. Last year MONK’estra Vol. 1 delivered him a Grammy nomination and two performances during North Sea Jazz this year. MONK’estra Vol. 2, Monk’s famous themes are used as a starting point for remarkable musical elaborations by the orchestra.
But with the help of saxophonist Kamasi Washington, Beasley lifts his orchestra to great heights in the song Evidence and his multiple uses of bass clarinet and trombone throw a new light on Monk’s compositions. Most beautiful is Crepuscule with Nellie, thanks to the fragile performance of violinist Regina Carter
MONK’estra vloog met moderne interpretaties hoog en boeiend door die lastige versnellingen en merkwaardige maatsoorten.
MONK’estra flew high and enthralling with modern interpretations, through fast passages and irregular signatures.”
New Yorker – Jazz And Standards
MONK’estra Volume 1 reviews
Downbeat online and Hot Box reviews
The first time I listened to this album in my car, I nearly missed my exit on the expressway. There is so much hep stuff happening in these new big band arrangements of tunes by Thelonious Monk that I was transported to another realm, one where the car seems capable of driving itself. Then it struck me: That’s precisely what’s happening with these charts and this ensemble of L.A.’s finest musicians and special guests, all under the direction of pianist/conductor/arranger John Beasley. Everything on Presents MONK’estra Vol. 1 feels so natural and inevitable, it’s almost as if the material plays itself. And if you enjoy Monk—whether for his undeniable logic, quirky song architecture or innate sense of swing—Beasley’s band will leave you rapt. Beasley has been writing big band charts since he was a teenager, and he has long been fascinated by Monk’s music (this debut recording by the MONK’estra is actually Beasley’s third album of material by the High Priest of Bebop). Beasley’s MONK’estra has performed live since 2013, and he has served as musical director for the Monk Institute’s Jazz Day gala concerts since 2011 and for International Jazz Day events since 2012. (He has done plenty of commercial work as well, most notably as the lead arranger for TV’sAmerican Idol from 2005 to 2016.) Beasley knows his Monk inside and out, and he knows his way around a chart. But, most importantly, this onetime member of groups led by Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis knows how to give his bandmembers—including guest stars Gary Burton on vibes (“Epistrophy”) and Grégoire Maret on harmonica (“Ask Me Now”)—sufficient freedom to stylize the written passages and improvise with abandon. In applying all of his acquired skills and personal passions to Presents MONK’estra Vol. 1, Beasley brings Monk to life once again for modern-minded listeners.
Guardian UK – by Dave Gelly 4/5stars
Since the 1950s, composer-arrangers have made orchestral versions of Thelonious Monk’s music. I have so far heard none that have been quite so bold as John Beasley in recasting what he calls the “architecture” of these dauntingly angular piano pieces for a jazz orchestra. He lifts Monk’s melodies away from their native idiom of bebop and replants them in the musically cosmopolitan 21st century. Monk’s insistent, almost manic worrying at single phrases is replaced by sudden surprises and changes of direction. The variety of orchestral textures seems endless too. There’s a lot to take in, and a lot of conventional ideas to set aside, but through it all Monk’s themes emerge as strong as ever.
The Observer UK – 4-stars
LA fixture John Beasley has been having this big band perform clever readings of Monk tunes locally for a few years; he finally decided to share it with the rest of the world. It’s a beaut!
The band includes some of the finest from the West Coast, including Bob Sheppard/sax, Danny Janklow/as, Tom Peterson/reeds, Gary Novak/dr and Brian Swartz/tp. Gary Burton does a guest appearance with a vibes solo between some wonderfully gurgling reeds on “Epistrophy” and Gregoire Maret’s harmonica veers in and out of some Ellingtonian harmonics with reeds and brass during a solvent “Ask Me Now.”
Beasley does some real clever work on these vintage pieces, such as adding a hip hop urban drum groove to “’Round Midnight” and mixing James Bond accents to a synth and irresistible mambo groove to “Little Rootie Tootie.” Monk’s voice is used along with some bass and electric and some film noir trumpet work on “Oska” while the section swagger with delight to Sheppard’s’ alto and soprano work on “Skippy”. The entire album just bubbles over with joy, adding new colors and styles as fresh as the hats on Thelonious Monk’s head.
LA Weekly by Kirk Silsbee
John Beasley’s MONK’estra Reinvents Thelonious Monk for the 21st Century Jazz pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader John Beasley began his career in the early 1980s, around the time jazz’s Young Men in Suits proclaimed that bebop was the one true way of life. They spoke solemnly about “keeping the flame,” “honoring the tradition” and other such homilies. Record companies, clubs and festivals got out their checkbooks and rewarded these young firebrands, many of whom would have been rated as just OK in the eras they sought to reconstitute.
While his contemporaries chased the past glories of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the Horace Silver Quintet, Beasley was playing piano in the short-lived band Thelonious, the Los Angeles Monk repertory outfit co-led by veteran bassist Buell Neidlinger and emerging tenor sax master Marty Krystall. But unlike the jacket-and-tie-clad bebop revivalistis, Beasley wasn’t learning Monk’s greatest hits from his father’s Blue Note albums. The Thelonious band vibrantly dug into deeper titles in the Monk canon with contemporary zeal.
At 18 and 19, Beasley also worked with Monk’s 1960s bassist Larry Gales, who made his home in L.A. Gales passed along an appropriately opaque bit of Monkian wisdom to the young pianist: “Kid, ya gotta learn how to breathe when ya play.”
You couldn’t mistake the Thelonious version of “Little Rootie Tootie,” with Peter Erskine’s peppery eighth-note drum propulsion and Krystall’s upper register multiphonics, for the dusty museum pieces routinely rendered on jazz festival stages. And Beasley has carried that spirit with him all these years.
“With Buell,” the 55-year old Beasley recalls, “I had to learn a bunch of Monk tunes all at once. And they were all hard to play.”
Though most of the Monk numbers had been composed in the ‘40s and ‘50s, their idiosyncrasies made them avant-garde to Beasley. “I was listening to Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter’s modal stuff,” he recalls, “but this was pre-modal jazz. The challenges were not only harmonic, but rhythmic too.”
While he went on to play with Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard, Beasley has shown his own flair for leadership. He’s been music director for Thelonious Monk Institute concerts, the Toyota Symphonies for Youth series at Disney Concert Hall, International Jazz Day (in Paris, Osaka, Istanbul and at the White House), and for A.R. Rahman (of Slumdog Millionaire fame) and Queen Latifah. He also guest-conducts European jazz big bands like the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, and he did the big band charts for Rihanna’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards last weekend.
For the past three years, Beasley has also piloted his MONK’estra 15-piece big band. Along with Kamsai Washington and Kendrick Lamar’s activities, it’s one of the prime reasons L.A. is now considered a leading center of contemporary jazz.
Fresh from four nights at New York’s Jazz Standard club, Beasley and company celebrate MONK’estra Vol. 1 (Mack Avenue), their debut album, at Bluewhale in Little Tokyo on Thursday, Sept. 1.
MONK’estra was the unofficial hit of the Playboy Jazz Festival in June, and Beasley’s arranging skills competed with the firepower of the band’s blue-chip soloists for honors. “Evidence” employed a stop-time chart, while Beasley accelerated the band’s tempo under alto saxophonist Danny Janklow’s blowtorch solo. They took evergreen ballad “’Round Midnight” as a slow jam, while trumpeter Dontae Winslow rapped a hip-hop narrative over the band that was personal yet centered on Monk. Another tune used a tuba-anchored second-line beat that suggested Big Sam’s Funky Nation meets Duke Ellington’s Jungle Band.
“John keeps you on the edge of your seat,” says trombonist Andy Martin, who played in an early version of MONK’estra. He had learned the Monk tunes by playing some of them in different form, as arranged by veteran bandleader Bill Holman. “Everything is spur-of-the-moment with John and you don’t know where it may lead.”
Beasley writes the charts but he’s also looking for bandstand input from MONK’estra. “John’s writing and his personality in a big band context is the really cool part of this band,” says tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard. “He’s not concerned with the drill and precision of what’s on the page; he allows the music to morph.”
“Everybody in the band gets to be expressive at all times,” says Janklow. “In some big bands I feel excluded but with John, there’s always something to keep it fresh — like clapping clave beats on ‘Skippy’ or dissonant chords over a vamp. That spontaneity makes it an intuitive experience.”
Beasley takes his cues for leading MONK’estra from the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis and Gil Evans Orchestras of the ‘70s and ‘80s. “Both of those bands had an almost unequaled excitement,” he marvels. “Thad could coax different things out of his band, and Gil would hold up fingers and change the direction of the piece right in the middle of the tune. I want to bring that excitement to the next generation.”
“All the people in the band are growing this thing together,” Janklow asserts. “It’s forward-moving and John takes suggestions from us. I’m always excited to play this music because it’s engaging and fun.”
So what is Beasley’s goal with MONK’estra? He pauses a moment before stating: “I hope the audacity of Monk comes through, come what may; and I want to bring that to 21st century audiences.”
John Beasley’s MONK’estra performs at Bluewhale on Thursday, Sept. 1. MONK’estra Vol. 1 is available now through Mack Avenue Records.
Irish Times – 4 star
LA pianist and musical director John Beasley is the sort of musician who’ll never be short of paid work.
Over the years, the 55-year-old son and grandson of professional musicians has answered the phone to everyone from Miles Davis and Steely Dan to American Idol and The Spice Girls.
But left to his own devices – always the kindest way to treat musicians – he likes to produce charts for his 15-piece ensemble of fellow hired guns, dedicated to the music of Thelonious Monk.
Beasely’s up-beat refashionings of tunes such as Epistrophy, Little Rootie Tootie and Ask Me Now are consummate displays of the arranger’s art, setting up some fine solo work, and proving once again the extraordinary resilience of Monk’s legacy.
Jersey Jazz, November issue
The music of Thelonious Monk was adventurous in many ways, and lends itself to a variety of interpretations. There have not been too many big band albums devoted to this material, with Bill Holman’s Brilliant Corners being the most memorable. Composer/arranger/pianist JOHN BEASLEY has taken on the challenge of addressing Monk’s music with a big band, and the interesting results can be found on John Beasley Presents MONK’estra Vol. 1 (Mack Avenue – 1113). With a lineup of first call Los Angeles musicians; Beasley has created stimulating charts for nine selections that are quite varied in their approach, ranging from a brief compilation of Monk riffs done in the style of a New Orleans second-line celebration to a wildly eclectic examination of “Little Rootie Tootie.” Not all of the arrangements will be to everyone’s taste, but the excitement and originality in Beasley’s writing is consistently ear catching and fascinating. From the title, it seems that there is more Monk material to come from Beasley and his band. [MONK’estra, Vol 2] That is something to look forward to with eager anticipation. (mackavenue.com)
John Beasley Brings Fresh Vibes With “MONK’estra” by Milena Staniskovska
John Beasley is a well known grammy-nominated musician, that continues to smash the jazz scene. His newest album “MONK’estra” , is a great way to show the public how jazz can be blended in other genres, and still stay classic and original. “MONK’estra” was released on august 19th, by Mack Avenue records
“MONK’estra” has 9 tracks, filled with hip-hop and Afro-Cuban rhythms, that will take your breath away. He lifts Monk’s melodies away from their native idiom of bebop and replants them in the musically cosmopolitan 21st century. Every song is a surprise by itself. The album starts with “Epistrophy”, a great jazzy son where we have Gary Burton on vibes. Also Grégoire Maret on harmonica amazes with the track “Ask Me Now”. “Round Midnight” is a example of modern jazz, the mix of jazz with hip-hop and soul. The album ends with the peaceful “Coming on the Hudson,”a track that will take you places.
John Beasley did a great job with “MONK’estra”, no one can deny that. He represents the jazz scene of today, and we can’t wait what he will give us tomorrow.
Perfect! Who better than Monk Institute Music Director John Beasley to finally create something that might have been thought of years ago: the concept of a “Monk’estra,” which is, of course, a full-fledged 15-man orchestra doing nothin’ but the hard, complex, circuitous compositions by The High Priest Of Bebop, baby, Thelonious Monk [1917-1982]. He’s been doing it for three years and now we have it on CD for the first time.
Beasley’s been a bad-ass ever since he performed in the bands of Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard. As the main American Idol arranger for the show’s last nine seasons…and as a hired-gun piano player who survived James Brown, Chick Corea, Steely Dan and Queen Latifah, the cat can do no wrong. Pianist/conductor/arranger, he’s taken on the task of reinventing, reimagining and redoing Monk through an influencing filter of Gil Evans (who worked magic with Miles).
Since Monk (like Bach, Ellington or Gershwin) still sounds good at any tempo, Beasley has changed and rearranged like a mad man gone amok. He’s a genius in getting just the right sound for his perambulations. Thus, he uses superstar vibes player Gary Burton on, arguably, Monk’s hardest twisting turning composition of them all, “Epistrophy,” to open. Beasley (in the liner notes): “what a virtuoso! One take, boom! He just nailed it.” Plus, he uses European harmonica master Gregoire Maret on “Ask Me Now.”
On “Skippy,” saxophonist Bob Sheppard plays the role of John Coltrane (‘Trane played a legendary gig with Monk for five months in 1957 at The Five Spot in New York). Or maybe he’s aping Charlie Rouse, Monk’s longtime tenor man, despite the fact that Sheppard wails exclusively on soprano and alto. (The tenor man here is Tom Leur and his big solo comes on “Little Rootie Tootie,” accentuating its cha-cha roots.)
Not afraid to interpret Monk’s most covered tune, “‘Round Midnight,” Beasley pulls out all the keyboard stops to focus on piano, Fender Rhodes and mini-moog synthesizer. Oddly enough, the leader doesn’t play a whole lot of piano here, only soloing on two tracks. Obviously, this whole band is his palette and he plays it like Duke played his big-band…like an instrument.
The Pace Report – video – live from the Jazz Standard Aug 19, 2016
Sounds Of Timeless Jazz – Paula Edelstein
“…a masterpiece that uniquely defies conventional interpretations of Monk’s music.”
Innovative, exuberant, and controversial, Thelonius Monk’s music in its nearly 70 years of existence, has found both popular appeal and intellectual appreciation for its emotional and musical intensity. His compositions provide the most impressive examples of bop harmonies while supporting catchy themes. As with any great composer, the ability to arrange and perform Monk’s compositions at any tempo and time signature came with great ease for John Beasley. The award-winning composer/pianist formed the big band known as MONK’estra as a result of a commission from Los Angeles’ Luckman Jazz Orchestra and over the years, stored up a pile of groove-centric arrangements that best suited Monk’s compositions.
On their debut recording for Mack Avenue titled MONK’estra, Vol. 1, John Beasley arranged, conducted and produced all songs on the recording in addition to bringing together many of the most revered jazz musicians to play 9 songs from the Thelonius Monk songbook – big band style! He retains much of the bop style that was rooted in the big-band techniques of the swing era – including the walking bass as a harmonic foundation and the repetitive cymbal patterns of swing while supplanting certain aspects of rhythm, harmony and melody. Beasley also left room on his arrangements for the musicians to improvise and the result is a five-star gem that provides thoughtful and comprehensive interpretations of Monk’s remarkable music.
Opening with “Epistrophy” the orchestra swings its unforgettable melody as Gary Burton nails his solo on the vibraphone. This angular tune never sounds dated and with the orchestral tinge John Beasley has arranged, this song sounds as contemporary as the present. Great soloing from Bob Sheppard, Brian Swartz, Bijon Watson and Gary Novak make “Skippy” a real thrill alongside controlled riffs and handclaps. Trumpet solos from Gabriel Johnson and Brian Swartz along with a solo from trombonist Francisco Torres rise to the occasion on “Oska.”
However, the real gem on the recording is “Round Midnight.” Here John Beasley has added subdued harmonies, hip-hop beats and shades of neo-soul sounds that bring this song into focus for a new 21st century listener as well as reminding jazz purists of Monk’s compositional integrity and ability to transcend generations.
The recording concludes with the easy-going “Coming on the Hudson,” and is the perfect way to relax with your significant other or dance the night away. Beasley’s masterful pianism makes this one a real keeper also.
Overall, MONK’estra, Vol. 1 is a masterpiece that uniquely defies conventional interpretations of Monk’s music. The recording deftly indicates John Beasley’s virtuosity as a re- arranger of the groove-centric, swinging, contemporary harmonies that emanated from Monk’s jazz. Check it out. Learn more about John Beasley here.
KCRW, Rhythm Planet by Tom Schnabel
Monumental achievement. Amazing big-boned charts. Does Sphere proud.
John Beasley takes on Monk
John Beasley has this to say about arranging classic tunes by Thelonious Monk: “Jimmy Heath once told me that all the good stuff is already built into Monk. The tunes are built to swing … The sign of a great composer – like Gershwin, Ellington, Wayne Shorter or Stevie Wonder – is that you can play their tunes at any tempo and change the structure, if you like. Bach sounds incredible at any tempo. So does Monk.”
Obviously, with both Bach and Monk, that can be taken to lunatic and pointless extremes. But, with Heath’s understanding that “all the good stuff is already built into Monk,” Beasley has created a Monk Orchestra that is creative and free and always apt and strong. That, to put it mildly, is not always true with arrangers having an orchestral go at Monk.
Not even Hall Overton who arranged Monk tunes for a Monk Orchestra concert with Monk at Carnegie Hall, quite got it right. Nor, for all his arranging genius, did Oliver Nelson, for a record with Monk. Gil Evans, on the other hand, always got it. So, to a lesser degree on this record, does Beasley which makes this Monk’estra a very sweet jazz group indeed. I’m eager to hear Volume Two.
WHRV FM – Sinnett In Session/The R&B Chronicles
Jae Sinnett, Jazz Radio Host/Producer – Music Educator/Drummer/Composer at WHRO is quite the respected DJ and drummer….congratulations. He doesn’t praise lightly) .
“The Monk’estra. One of the most visionary, deeply musical and thought provoking new recordings I’ve heard in a while. The material isn’t new but John Beasley managed to truly put 21st century layers on Thelonious Monk’s music. Amazingly creative and in addition to the incredible arranging and playing, the music FEELS good. I listen to a lot of this music and for me the lack of a meaningful,.soulful, passionate feel in the music is becoming all too pervasive in jazz. Seriously. So much emphasis is put on structural things. Technique, harmonic and melodic studies, creative soloing ideas, etc…Advancing and developing…but the feel is thin in much of the new music. The swing beat, pocket or the groove…the pulse is weak. Why? Not sure but I’m guessing it has to do with where the focus is being placed on what you play. It’s problematic in my view. It’s top heavy with no bottom. All this heady stuff flying around with no soul. Not the case here. The vibe on this record is beautiful. I laughed out loud when I heard Epistrophy. So beautifully twisted and fresh. Hats off to Beasley for creating one of the most musically interesting records of the year to this point.”
John Beasley, piano/arranger/conductor/Fender Rhodes/minimoog; Benjamin J. Shepherd, Reggie Hamilton & Rickey Minor bass; Gary Burton, vibes; Grégoire Maret, harmonica; Terreon Gully, drums; Tom Luer, tenor saxophone; Danny Janklow, alto saxophone; Ryan Dragon, trombone; Tom Peterson, bass clarinet; Gabriel Johnson, trumpet; Francisco Torres, trombone; Brian Swartz, trumpet; Bob Sheppard, alto & soprano saxophones; Bijon Watson, trumpet; Gary Novak, drums. Thelonius Monk voice excerpt from French interview. Jamie Hovorka, Gabriel Johnson, Mike Cottone & James Ford, trumpets; Wendell Kelly, Ryan Dragon, Lemar Guillary, Eric Miller, Paul Young & Steve Hughes, trombones. Justo Almario, Tom Peterson, Jeff Driskill, Alex Budman & Adam Schroeder, woodwinds; Joey De Leon, percussion.
A cacophony of sound bursts from my CD player and startles me into alertness. It’s not really dissonant, but more like organized chaos. It’s the second cut on John Beasley’s newest Compact Disc release that has snatched my attention. This entire recording celebrates the great work of composer/pianist Thelonius Monk. The tune is “Skippy,” where the horn section is beautifully arranged and Bob Sheppard shines on alto and soprano saxophones. Bravo to Brian Swartz and Bijon Watson on trumpets with Gary Novak holding everything in place on drums and taking a stellar solo. The musicianship, the arrangements, the compositions; they are all thee wrapped in a bundle of energy that only someone brilliant like Beasley could organize.
Beasley is joined by two other creative and competent producers; Ran Pink and Gavin Lurssen. Beasley, however, has arranged and conducted this entire album. The take on “Round Midnight” is beautiful in an odd way; perhaps I should have referred to it as an ‘odd beauty.’ Of course we all know how beautiful this Thelonius Monk composition is, but Beasley has taken it to new depths with funky, hip hop drum licks and unexpected chord changes that hauntingly thrust the listener into another dimension of understanding. The transmogrification of this standard, Monk jazz tune shows how daring and delicious Thelonius, the composer, really was and how talented and improvisational Beasley is. He, like Monk, is one of those people with his ears and inspiration in the outer limits of music. The orchestration on this project is awesome, as is the musicianship. Bravo to every member of the orchestra that brought Beasley’s arrangements to life. Gary Burton offers a wonderful vibe solo on “Epistrophy”. On “Oska T,” you actually hear Monk speaking about his musicianship and its effect on fellow musicians. Surprisingly (I discovered in the linear notes) both Beasley and Monk were born on the same October 10th day, but several years apart. If you appreciate and admire the music of Monk, this Beasley tribute CD is a must-add to your collection.
“…Beasley takes Monk’s sturdy tunes on a joyride for MONK’estra…” – The New Yorker
The music of the pianist and composer Thelonious Monk is simultaneously unassailable and ever open to reinterpretation. Fronting a fifteen-piece band well stocked with formidable players, Beasley takes Monk’s sturdy tunes on a joyride for MONK’estra, bolstered even further by the addition of a surprise guest singer on Aug. 18 and the imaginative violinist Regina Carter on the 19th and 20th.
JOHN BEASLEY’S MONK’ESTRA (through Sunday) John Beasley is a pianist and bandleader accustomed to overseeing a lot of moving parts: He recently did an excellent job as musical director for the International Jazz Day Concert at the White House.
As on his new album, “MONK’estra,” Mr. Beasley appears here with a big band, playing his arrangements of Thelonious Monk’s music; the special guest on Friday and Saturday is the violinist Regina Carter. At 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., Jazz Standard 116 East 27th Street, Manhattan, 212-576-2232, jazzstandard.com. (jazz critic Nate Chinen)
Zeal NYC – Aug 18 2016 – Aug 21 2016
The New Monk Reimagined by Pianist John Beasley and His Big Band at Jazz Standard
Pianist/arranger John Beasley has had miles of history with jazz’s greats—one of Miles Davis’s last touring bands and a member of Freddie Hubbard’s quintet. Add to that his gig as music director of Jazz Day galas for the Thelonious Monk Institute. That’s the operative word here—Monk—when it comes to Beasley’s latest project: exploring the music of the iconic pianist with his 15-piece MONK’estra big band, reimagining the music in what one hopes is the idiosyncratic, spirited way Monk would have liked. Beasley makes his big band debut on Mack Avenue with John Beasley presents MONK’estra volume 1 and celebrates the “new” music thay have created with a four-night run at Jazz Standard. Long lives Monk is Beasley’s credo. Amen. Joining him are:
Foreign Language Press
Dutch: John Beasley presents MONK’estra Vol 1 (Mack Avenue MAC1113, 2016)
Wie klassieke Monk-composities zó binnenstebuiten kan keren en er vervolgens ‘n dergelijk frisse eclectische muziek van kan maken, is diep in de materie gedoken. Klopt. Pianist en arrangeur John Beasley (55) was in zijn jonge jaren lid van de groep Thelonious van bassist Buell Neidlinger, die de krochten van Monk omspitte. Hij werkte, in Los Angeles, ook met de voormalige Monkman Larry Gales. Beasley ontdekte dat die oude Monk-nummers uit de jaren veertig en vijftig meer te bieden hadden dan de modale muziek waarmee het merendeel van zijn leeftijdgenoten zich onledig hield.
Wellicht niet helemaal toevallig begint de schijf met ‘Epistrophy’, een van de vroege composities van Thelonious Monk en de eerste die op de plaat terechtkwam. Dat was in 1942, door het orkest van trompettist Cootie Williams, die het als herkenningsmelodie gebruikte. Hier jongleert Beasley met tempi en hobbelende ritmes. Tegen het eindde halveren de trombones en de rieten het tempo nog eens. Toch heeft het nummer iets van de warme sonoriteit van het origineel behouden.
En zo verkent John Beasley het repertoire, alsof hij het labyrint doorkruipt in de buik van het schip waar Edgar Allen Poes Arthur Gordon Pym als verstekeling zit. Met Beasley ontdekken we dat het van Monk naar Mingus slechts een stap is, met dat shoutende demperwerk.
Zelfs ‘Round Midnight’ klinkt als nieuw, met ‘n lome rockbeat waarop de melodie drijft, statig als een cruiseschip. Een sprookje in full-color.
Als we dan de toffe bombast van ‘Little Rootie Tootie’ hebben gehad glijden we in ‘Coming On The Hudson’ het water over, de zomerschemering tegemoet. Op het laatst ziet niemand meer of we op een stoomboot zitten of in een heteluchtballon.
Avontuurlijker big band jazz ben ik dit jaar nog niet tegengekomen.
LA Times Preview by Chris Barton
Five acts not to miss at this weekend’s Playboy Jazz Festival
“John Beasley’s MONK’estra: A fixture on the L.A. music scene, this pianist has been heard as a musician and arranger on “American Idol” as well as numerous contributions to various films and commercials including “Skyfall” and the upcoming “Finding Dory.”
But as a Grammy-nominated bandleader he remains among the city’s top talents, and this hard-swinging big band dedicated to honoring the music of Thelonious Monk offers some welcome twists on Monk’s beautifully twisted music buoyed by a hard-hitting lineup that has included saxophonist Bob Sheppard and drummer Ronald Bruner Jr.”
LA Times Review by Chris Barton
“Pianist John Beasley offered a more fitting tribute to a vintage catalog with his MONK’estra, a band that views the rich catalog of Thelonious Monk as malleable raw material. Session favorite Terreon Gully powered the crooked rhythm behind “Epistrophy” and a rousing, New Orleans-rich “Green Chimneys.” “Evidence” rose from a slow-motion beginning into a storm of horns from Sheppard (who performed double-duty Saturday) and L.A.-by-way-of-Baltimore trumpeter Dontae Winslow, who punctuated his quicksilver turn with a freestyle rap that closed with the declaration, “real jazz.” And who could argue?”
Urban Music Scene by A. Scott Galloway
“Keyboardist/Arranger/Composer/Producer John Beasley has been a powerhouse not only in jazz and rock music but also in Hollywood from “James Bond: Skyfall” to the upcoming animated feature “Finding Dory.” He has released several solo CDs but this August will unveil the first recorded volume of a special project he brought to the Bowl stage this year – the 16-piece ensemble Monk’estra – through which he flips the already flipped music of Thelonious Monk on its other ear! I’ve seen “Beas” preparing this ensemble for posterity by playing live locally twice before at the intimate Baked Potato and the outdoor Los Angeles County Museum of Art. They are to be commended for adventurous explorations of classics from “Evidence” to “Misterioso” with most evident daring.”
Q&A Interview with Music Legend John Beasley
Radio, KPFK 90.7FM, Global Village with Sergio Mielniczenko
Don Heckman, International Review of Music “Some of the most mesmerizing big band music of recent memory. Beasley’s arrangements captured Monk’s unique quirkiness, the offbeat accents, punchy dissonances and surprisingly soaring melodies with stunningly atmospheric ensemble textures. His obviously extraordinary orchestrating abilities, combined with superb individual soloing from virtually every musician, resulted in a definitive display of Big, Modern and Jazz Band.
Brick Wahl, former LA Weekly’s jazz writer and current Intl Review of Music
It’s pure John Beasley, in that he’s taken all the Thelonious Monk compositions, rendered them new without reducing their Monkishness one iota, and the result is thrilling… this is maybe the best new big band on the planet.”
Cynthia Lum, Examiner.com
“Five Stars: Spectacular! The ultra-hip, ultra-cool, ultra-swinging John Beasley’s MONK’estra rocked the house at Vitellos.’ Supersize figure in the jazz music world, Beasley led a dazzling assemblage of players.”
Paula Edelstein, Sounds of Timeless Jazz
“Beasley is a real genius. His imaginative, modern arrangements are artistic charts colored outside the lines of traditional big band music arrangements.”
San Jose Mercury News, Andrew Gilbert
Beasley’s smart and engaging take on Thelonious Monk’s ingenious compositions, as well as the sheer power and creative camaraderie that flows from a big band hitting on all cylinders.”
LA Weekly, Gary Fukushima
The superb MONK’estra led by John Beasley.
Beasley follows in the footsteps of Hal Overton and Oliver Nelson in arranging Monk’s compositional masterpieces for jazz orchestra, playfully colored by Beasley’s fun-loving persona. John Beasley’s MONK’estra, which has quickly become a fan favorite, playing at Disney Hall, the Central Avenue Jazz Festival and the SFJAZZ Center. Beasley is getting rave reviews for his MONK’estra, theThelonious Monk-inspired big band featuring a small army of brilliant unsung LA hero-musicians