Artist: Thelonious Monk
Genre: Hard Bop
The best song on Monk’s Music is the first. It lasts only 53 seconds and doesn’t even feature Thelonious Monk, yet “Abide with Me” is one of the most powerful, solemn hymns in all of jazz. It was originally composed by William Henry Monk (no relation) sometime in the 1840s and is brought to life 100 years later in the iconic version found here, played by Ray Copeland (trumpet), Gigi Gryce (alto sax), Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax) and John Coltrane (tenor sax).
The tune is melancholy and uplifting and inspirational all at once — a confident sigh of relief, a reassurance that the worst is over. It remains one of the greatest album introductions of all time, jazz or otherwise.
Even though the album’s best track is only 53 seconds long, the rest of Monk’s Music still holds tremendous value. In fact, this actually may be Monk’s most essential recording — the most talented band he ever played with playing some of his most confident arrangements.
Following “Abide with Me” is an 11-minute version of “Well You Needn’t,” which provides ample opportunity for the septet to stretch their limbs. You can hear Monk jubilantly shouting “Coltrane! Coltrane!” as he hands off the track’s first solo to the mercurial saxophonist. It’s not often that you can replace Sonny Rollins with an even greater talent.
The brand of hard bop on Monk’s Music is much smoother than the angular strain found on Brilliant Corners (Monk’s first album of 1957). Yet that doesn’t make it any less adventurous. “Abide with Me” is the leap of faith, an invitation to place your trust in whatever sound the pianist produces. The fact that he wins you over in less than a minute only confirms the obvious — Monk is without compare.