Thursday, July 17, 2014

“Blue Monk” – Jazz on Nylon #1

There is never a bad day to listen to a Thelonious Monk composition, right? & today we have something a bit different—a Monk composition rendered on classical guitar!

In fact, when the guitarist is Pino Russo, this works pretty much to perfection. There’s not much information on Russo in English, but he’s an Italian guitar virtuoso (also apparently an accomplished mandolinist), & there are a number of videos on YouTube showcasing his work on compositions by Coltrane, Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis & others. Russo has superb tone & melodic sense in his arrangements, & plenty of soul—really inspired work.

While everyone thinks of the typical archtop guitar “jazzbox” as being the sine qua non instrument for playing standards—say a Gibson ES-175, à la Joe Pass—there is precedent for using a nylon string classical in top flight jazz playing, most famously of course by Charlie Byrd. Byrd, of course, played a lot of bossa nova, & the nylon string guitar is integral to the Brazilian jazz sound, but the mellow nylon tone has great possibilities for standards of all sorts. As Russo shows here, it can swing blue as well!

Blue Monk” is said to have been Monk’s favorite among his own compositions. Written in Bb, it’s in essence a 12-bar blues, though depending upon which lead sheet you look at there can be a fair number of chord substitutions on that basic form.

There are a number of videos on YouTube featuring top-notch classical/nylon string guitarists producing versions of jazz standards & Great American Songbook tunes, & I’ll be posting some of these as an ongoing (though irregularly appearing) series. Hope you enjoy this kickoff edition!

Image of Pino Russo links to its source at

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