Artist: Thelonious Monk
In comparison to other great jazz artists of the area, Thelonious Monk didn’t have a large compositional output. Nonetheless, he still released far more LPs than your average jazzman. He accomplished this feat by constantly updating his discography — re-tweaking his own songs until they become unrecognizable with each rendition.
For example, the version of “Friday the 13th” heard on The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall is far different than the experimental epic that closes Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins. Backed by a full 10-piece jazz ensemble, the original mood is completely changed. The same holds true with every song on the LP.
In fact, The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall is the definitive live Monk LP, even more so than Misterioso. It features five of his greatest tunes — “Monk’s Mood,” “Little Rootie Tootie,” “Off Minor,” “Crepuscule with Nellie” and the aforementioned “Friday the 13th” — performed in some of his most uncharacteristic arrangements.
Although most jazz critics would recommend Thelonious Monk Trio, Genius of Modern Music or even Brilliant Corners as the optimal starting points for listeners looking to get the full Monk experience, I’d say that Town Hall provides the best initiation.