“Epistrophy” is a standard composed by pianist Thelonious Monk and drummer Kenny Clarke in 1942. Both were at that time in the house band at Minton’s Playhouse, where the famous jam sessions took place that led to the development of Be-Bop.

Monk was well-known of his unorthodox style to play the piano (which you can see very well in video added in this blog) and his unique composition style. He wrote songs like “Round Midnight”, “Well, You Needn’t”, “Blue Monk” or “Straight, No Chaser”. All these songs are either blues tunes or very bluesy oriented and the melody is using many chromatic elements.

“Epistrophy” is no exception here. The tune is based on a 32-bar ABCB form (or AA’BA’ since the second 8 bars of the melody are similar to first eight bars, just one whole step higher played).

The style of the composition is like an invitation to very experimental and vanguard interpretation of the tune and I would like to introduce here some of these interpretations.

  1. Let’s start with Monk himself: There is a nice live recording with John Coltrane on saxophone and Monk on piano from November 29, 1957. This recording is itself famous since it was accidentally discovered and released in 2005.
  2. The next version I have for you is from the trumpet player Alex Sipiagin recorded in 2009 with a nice line-up (Chris Potter on saxophone and Dave Kikoski on piano). This is a very modern way to play the tune, also rhythmically very interesting.
  3. Another Coltrane-version (this time from Ravi Coltrane also from 2009) shows us how to play this tune in a faster tempo than what we have heard before. The excellent drummer on this recording is E.J. Strickland who was leading the drums workshop in Langnau in 2012.
  4. The next recording I chose is from Elliot Sharp (or E#) from 2006 and shows the experimental and vanguard side of Monks tune.
  5. Finally I have a Chaka Khan medley of famous Be-Bop tunes found on the 1982 album “Chaka Khan” where the following standards are put together into one funky (and Grammy awarded) medley: Hot House – East of Suez (Come On Sailor) – Epistrophy (I Wanna Play) – Yardbird Suite – Con Alma – Giant Steps.

I have again prepared a playlist, so you can listen yourself to the different interpretations.

Finally I found a video showing Monk playing his composition