A re-discovered Thelonious Monk live recording has more behind its story
Why would a jazz giant play in a high school auditorium in 1968?
Lost and buried live recordings of jazz giants are recently seeing the light (and sound) of the day and the upcoming release of Thelonious Monk’s concert at a Palo Alto high school auditorium in 1968 (July 2020) is among them.
While, it might seem just as ‘a regular’ jazz story, according to the accounts presented by NPR and Open Culture (OC), there’s more to the story than meets the eye (and ear).
It turns out that in 1968, “Monk had an opportunity to make a direct contribution by playing the mostly white Palo Alto High School after the most ‘racially tense’ summer of the decade.”
According to Monk’s biographer, Robin D. G. Kelley, he told NPR that the show was organized by enterprising 16-year-old junior Danny Scher, who would go on to become a major concert promoter. As OC notes, “[t]hrough his local connections, Scher contacted Monk’s manager and arranged the booking. In order to fill the auditorium, he promoted the show in his wealthy Palo Alto enclave, in the local newspapers, and in largely segregated East Palo Alto.”
Kelley wrote that, “[n]either Thelonious nor sixteen-year-old Danny Scher fully grasped what this concert meant for race relations in the area. For one beautiful afternoon, blacks and whites, P.A. and East P.A. buried the hatchet and gathered together to hear ‘Blue Monk,’ ‘Well, You Needn’t,’ and ‘Don’t Blame Me.'”
While Scher may have had the presence of mind to follow up before the gig, he didn’t think to document the moment. That fell to a Black custodian at the high school (whose name has been unfortunately lost) who approached Scher, Nate Chinen tells NPR, and offered to tune the piano if he could record the gig.
The custodian gave the tapes to Scher and the promoter held on to them for over 50 years. Now they’re finally being released as Palo Alto by Impulse! Records on July 31st.