A happy Sunday, friends. We’re back at you with another installment in the Jazz on Nylon series. Great song for a hot summer evening or night—so great in fact, that I’m posting two versions for your listening pleasure.
Thelonious Monk’s composition “’Round Midnight” is, according to the Jazz Standards website, “the most-recorded jazz standard written by any jazz musician.” There are conflicting stories about the songs composition. Some claim that Monk was as young as 18 or 19 when he wrote the song, originally under the title of “Grand Finale.” Others claim it was written in 1940 or 1941, when Monk was in his early 20s. At any rate, it’s known that trumpet player Cootie Williams recorded the song in 1944; as Cootie Williams shares the composition credit with Monk, it’s generally thought that a handful of Williams’ embellishments became a part of the song, but there is a bit of controversy on this point. Bernie Hanighen added lyrics a few years later.
“’Round Midnight” became a signature song for Cootie Williams, & later for Miles Davis as well (who titled an album “Round About Midnight,” which led to this being used as an alternate title); Dizzy Gillespie & Art Pepper also recorded notable versions, & the vocal version has been sung by a number of jazz singers.
The song is written in the key of Eb minor, which is considerably more friendly for a piano, brass, or reed instrument than it is for the guitar. According to Jazz Standards,”the initial harmonic progression is i -vi -ii7 -V7, similar to ‘Alone Together’”; however, on the same page, saxophonist Jim Clark states that while this is the progression given in The Real Book, it’s not what he hears Monk & others actually playing.
My original idea was to post Ukrainian guitarists Roman Viazovskiy’s great version based on Roland Dyen’s arrangement. Intricate & highly lyrical, this is a beautiful reading. But let’s face it: when there’s a version that exists by the Brazilian virtuoso Baden Powell, it’s pretty hard to overlook that! The video & audio are better on the Viazovskiy rendition, but Powell’s highly improvised Latin reading is masterful—& given the importance of this song in the Jazz songbook, why not go with two versions? In addition, it will make up a little for the lapse since the last post in this series! Finally, as an added bonus for those who find even two versions to be insufficient: here’s a link to the great guitarist Wes Montgomery playing a jazz box version in his amazing thumb style & a link to a beautiful solo piano version by Monk himself.
Image links to its source on Wiki CommonsThelonious Monk, Minton's Playhouse, New York, ca. September 1947. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb – Library of Congress, Public Domain