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Monk and Coltrane at Carnegie Hall

Last week, NPR’s Robert Siegel interviewed Larry Applebaum of the Library of Congress about a new release by pianist Thelonious Monk and saxophonist John Coltrane made in 1957 at Carnegie Hall. Although the concert was recorded for broadcast, the tapes were never aired and have languished until earlier this year.

The fragments I heard were characteristic of each players’ style, but with an extra dimension that was electrifying. Monk was his usual angular and pointillistic self, while Coltrane was the opposite, spinning unbroken strands of melody to fill every available space. I think Carnegie Hall inspired them, and it didn’t hurt that many of their distinguished peers were listening in the wings. I mention this only because jazz festivals can bring out the worst in players. Larger venues and enthusiastic audiences often encourage musicians to engage in bombastic overplaying, or what Wynton Marsalis calls “housin’” (showboating to please the audience). This group had way too much taste for that. They were definitely on though.

As great as the music was, that’s not what made my ears twitch. It was the sound—full, clear, balanced, and present. During the course of the interview, Robert Siegel even commented on the fidelity, and the interview turned a corner to discuss the engineering. The concert was recorded by a staff engineer at the Voice of America named Harry Hochberg, who recorded many of their jazz programs. He did a superb job. Harry, wherever you are, I salute you.

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