John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Sonny Roillins get 'Definitive'

Following up on the success of The Definitive Vince Guaraldi, Concord Music Group  has assembled three new titles in the Definitive series showcasing some of the most influential figures in modern jazz. The Definitive John Coltrane on Prestige and Riverside; The Definitive Thelonious Monk on Prestige and Riverside;The Definitive Sonny Rollins on Prestige, Riverside and Contemporary not only put the spotlight on the monumental work of three individual jazz players of the 1950s, but also provide an overview of the hard-bop period, one of the most significant chapters in the evolution of jazz. Each of the 2-CD collections is set for release on August 24, 2010.

The Definitive John Coltrane on Prestige and Riverside tracks Coltrane’s artistic development from his first Prestige recording session in November 1955 for Miles: The New Miles Davis Quintet to his last sessions for Prestige (for Bahia) in December 1958.

Trane’s career was marked by various shifts in style throughout the ’50s and ’60s, “but if you like straight-ahead, yet inventive, hard-bop playing, then this collection of recordings from the mid- to late ’50s is definitely one of the sweet spots,” says Nick Phillips, Concord Music Group’s Vice President of Jazz and Catalog A&R and the producer of the Definitive series. “And yet some of what you hear in these tracks gives hints about what was to come from this restlessly creative artist.”

Extensive liner notes by veteran music journalist and Coltrane biographer Ashley Kahn provide an in-depth look at the tracks and the circumstances surrounding their genesis. “The Definitive John Coltrane offers a best-of culled from these early recordings,” says Kahn, “offering an inspiring listening session that allows for much to be gleaned: Coltrane’s talent at recasting decades-old themes with a modern touch; a penchant for brooding, minor-key melodies; the uncanny rate of his personal development — building on his strengths, articulating a signature sound; an increased ability born in the one-take fire of three-hour recording dates to toss together timeless performances.”

The Definitive Thelonious Monk on Prestige and Riverside covers an even broader span of the ’50s, beginning with trio sessions in New York featuring bassist Gary Mapp and drummer Art Blakey in October 1952 and stretching to sextet dates in San Francisco with trumpeter Joe Gordon, tenor saxophonists Harold Land and Charlie Rouse, bassist John Ore and drummer Billy Higgins in April 1960.

“This is some of the most amazing Thelonious Monk on record,” says Phillips. “Whether he’s playing a standard or one of his own compositions, he sounds uniquely like Thelonious Monk and nobody else. All of the tunes in this collection that Monk wrote have become jazz standards. Conversely, he plays standard tunes like ‘Caravan’ and ‘Tea for Two’ with such distinctive genius that you’d swear he had written them himself.”

But Monk was no overnight sensation. He made “a long, slow climb from underground to mainstream adulation, and the ten-year period represented by this collection captures that ascent,” says Kahn in his liner notes. “The one constant — creatively, promotionally, and economically — was his recordings. First for Prestige Records from 1952 to ’54, then for the Riverside label from ’55 to ’61, Monk was afforded the chance to create new music and work with a number of significant jazz peers in a number of contexts — from solo piano, to trios, to quartets, even a big band . . . Most importantly, what Monk composed and recorded during the ’50s amount to the definitive versions of some of the most enduring, joyous melodies in modern jazz.”

The Definitive Sonny Rollins on Prestige, Riverside and Contemporary comes out a few weeks ahead of Rollins’ 80th birthday on September 7. Like the Thelonious Monk release, the Sonny Rollins set also covers almost an entire decade, from a December 1951 session in New York for Sonny Rollins with the Modern Jazz Quartet to an October 1958 session in Los Angeles for Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders.

“That was such a significant period in the development of jazz in general, and Sonny Rollins was at the heart of all that was going on during that decade,” says Phillips. “Just look at the Miles Davis session where he recorded ‘Airegin,’ ‘Doxy’ and ‘Oleo,’ for example. Those are all tunes that he penned, and all remain indelible jazz standards. That’s a whole lot of jazz history that was made on just a single day in the summer of 1954.”

Liner notes for The Definitive Sonny Rollins are provided by music journalist Bob Blumenthal, co-author with photographer John Abbott of the forthcoming book, Saxophone Colossus: A Portrait of Sonny Rollins.

“That the marks of [Rollins’] genius were fully apparent in the music he made over a half-century ago has been obvious to all who have followed the trajectory of his unprecedented career,” says Blumenthal. “As a contract artist with Prestige Records between 1951 and 1956, and through his work on various labels from 1957 until the beginning of an extended sabbatical two years later, Rollins laid the foundation for his status as a master improviser, saxophonist and composer; an influence far beyond his chosen instrument and idiom; and a living icon of affirmative creativity. Concord Music Group is the steward of many of the finest Rollins performances of the ’50s, and has culled them well in presenting this short course in what made Sonny Rollins Sonny Rollins.” released in October 2009.

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