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Duke backs commemorative Monk show

NEW YORK - The jazz world was out Thursday and Friday nights for "Monk at Town Hall," two concerts presented and sponsored by Duke Performances and the Center for Documentary Studies.

Approximately 2,200 attended the shows at The Town Hall by the Charles Tolliver Tentet and Jason Moran's Big Bandwagon, which commemorated a landmark 1959 concert by pianist Thelonious Monk. Both nights were performances of works commissioned by Duke Performances and premiered at Duke in Fall 2007.

"We accomplished what we set out to do, which was to present a couple of evenings of jazz that were almost wholly uncompromised," said Duke Performances Director Aaron Greenwald. "I feel like it was hugely successful."

Dozens of leading musicians, from Monk's son T.S. Monk to guitarist Pat Metheny, and critics from The New York Times and The New Yorker attended the shows.

Steely Dan singer and keyboardist Donald Fagen said he is typically skeptical of commemorative shows, but enjoyed the Tolliver concert.

"I thought it was a really good representation of what Monk does," he said. "It was really great as far as tributes go."

Tolliver's band performed note-for-note transcriptions of the music Monk's band played in 1959. He spent months painstakingly transcribing them to recreate the concert.

Thursday's set also featured solos from alto saxophonist Todd Bashore, Trinity '94.

Paul Jeffrey, who played saxophone in Monk's last ensemble and then directed the Duke Jazz Program for two decades, said he was moved by the concert.

"It was a great concert," he said. "Fifty years and Monk's music being recreated in such a way-they captured his spirit."

Creed Taylor, Trinity '54 and a legendary jazz producer, also enjoyed the concert.

"I was flabbergasted-the whole ensemble was such a powerhouse," he said. "It should be recreated often."

Moran's concert Friday night was comprised of a multimedia suite called "In My Mind," mixing archival audio and images from CDS' Jazz Loft Project, a massive archive of about 40,000 pictures and 4,000 hours of tapes of jazz musicians. The material was collected by photographer W. Eugene Smith at his loft in New York in the 1950s and 1960s and is curated by Sam Stephenson, a research associate at CDS and the project director.

Some of that material, as well as video footage and captions by Moran, played on a screen as the band played whimsical arrangements of Monk's songs.

Around 30 members of Monk's family attended the Friday show, including Pamela Monk Kelley, whose father was Monk's first cousin.

"We had a busload that came up," she said. "We were really excited about hearing this great work Thelonious Monk has done. Every time I hear the music I feel rejuvenated."

Greenwald said he hopes the concerts can show the way to a new paradigm of what an institution of higher learning can do in the performing arts, noting that the project involved a nexus of the academics, facilities, programming bodies and financial resources available at Duke.

Provost Peter Lange wrote in an e-mail that the New York events were a major victory for jazz and for the University alike.

"In presenting these concerts first on campus and now in New York, Duke has shown its commitment to the arts and jazz as an integral part of the nation's culture and of our own," he said. "It is a privilege for us to have been able to make this contribution to the cultural life of the many communities of which we are a part."


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