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Duke-sponsored concerts mark famed Monk show

Jazz giants Jason Moran and Charles Tolliver will perform shows in New York City marking the 50th anniversary of a landmark Thelonious Monk concert this weekend, in a celebration presented by Duke Performances and the Center for Documentary Studies.

The two major works-Moran's multimedia suite In My Mind and Tolliver's arrangements of the charts from the 1959 concert-were commissioned for Duke Performances' popular "Following Monk" series in Fall 2007. To commemorate the concert, Duke rented Town Hall, site of the 1959 Monk tentet show, to perform the works in the world's jazz capital.

"After we'd done those projects and we felt like they'd been pretty successful, we realized that the 50th anniversary of Monk at Town Hall was coming up, and just like we play a home basketball game in New York every year, maybe we should offer up a concert in New York," said Duke Performances Director Aaron Greenwald.

He said the show would both help to project Duke's image as an emerging center for the arts, and for jazz in particular, and would present a tribute to Monk that was not as "treacly" as other commemorations.

But the University also houses the Jazz Loft Project, a sprawling archive including photos and audio from the loft of W. Eugene Smith, a photographer whose apartment was a frequent hangout for jazz musicians in the 1950s and 1960s. Monk and arranger Hall Overton held rehearsals for the Town Hall concert in the loft.

"There's a lot of things that the Loft encompasses, but in terms of artistic achievement, the 1959 Town Hall concert is probably the greatest," Greenwald said. "It's the moment where Monk's career shifts from being a club musician to being an icon."

Trumpeter and arranger Tolliver was in the house as a teenager that night, but his memory comes from listening to records: he said he doesn't remember anything about the concert.

He had plenty of chance to brush up in the months he spent painstakingly transcribing the show. The original scores were lost, so Tolliver had to recreate them from scratch. To get the best quality sound, he used vinyl instead of CD.

"It meant that you have to have very good speakers, a good turntable, a lot of needles," he said. "You have to painstakingly only put down exactly what you hear and not what you think you hear. You have to know the sound of each instrument like your Social Security number."

Tolliver was intrigued by the rehearsal recordings in the Jazz Loft archive, but opted not to use them because they didn't represent what was actually played at the show.

"When you get into 'intended,' you are then in dangerous ground," he said. "If it's not there in the grooves, you don't put it down. I wanted to have the actual visceral reading they had, mistakes and all."

Moran, in his work, takes an opposite approach, integrating clips from the rehearsal tapes-along with video from a trip to Newton Grove, the Monk family's ancestral home-with a big band score.

"The original idea came from [programming group] SFJAZZ. They wanted me to play the Town Hall concert as is," Moran told The Chronicle in Fall 2007. "As flattered as I was by the invitation... for a person like Monk and as much as he means to me, I'd like to do something much larger, a multimedia piece that really looks at what Monk's legacy is."

Moran and Tolliver's pieces should offer two different but complementary approaches to the legacy of the 1959 concert. Tolliver said Duke Performances and the CDS were executing an important service by commissioning the works and producing the concerts.

"It's a grand and important night-important that what Monk did is celebrated," he said. "I think it's a grand idea. The Duke folks are absolutely to be commended."

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