“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.
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.
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.
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.
The next recording I chose is from Elliot Sharp (or E#) from 2006 and shows the experimental and vanguard side of Monks tune.
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
This tune was originally written for the 1941 Universal film “Keep ‘Em Flying” but became famous in the Jazz scene in the 1950′s when Miles Davis or Chet Baker started to play and record this song.
The original key of this song is G minor and the form is a 32 bars AABA standard form. The Real Book has the song in the key of F minor and refers to the recordings of Miles Davis on “Walkin’” from 1954 and Sonny Rollins on “Saxophone Colossus” from 1956.
As this is a very popular song from the Great American Songbook there are endless versions recorded and I would like to share with you my top 5 recordings of this jazz standard:
Pat Martino (from the 1976 album “We’ll Be Together Again”): This recording finds Pat Martino with Gil Goldstein on the electric piano in their best form, playing the song very sophisticated and aesthetic and leaving a lot of space to each other proving that less notes can be more music. Pat Martino plays the melody with just a little bit of additional “decoration” and improvises over the AAB part of the second chorus with a straight even groove but without falling into a double-time feeling.
John Coltrane (from the 1962 album “Ballads”): Here we have John Coltrane’s classic quartet with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums.
The melody is played rubato, the solo (saxophone only) is very straight swinging and the song is closed by playing the first part of the melody once more rubato. This recording is a real “classic” one and is an excellent example of the Coltrane-style of jazz music.
Chet Baker (from the album “Saga All Stars: You Don’t Know What Love Is / 1953-1955″): This recording features Chet Baker singing and playing the trumpet (his sideman are Russ Freeman (p), Carson Smith (b) and Bob Neal (d)) and is a perfect sample of cool and relaxed played Jazz music. The trumpet solo is very melodically and Baker’s lost and lonely voice is unique in it’s style. The song has been recorded at a time when Baker was one of the most influential jazz musicians representing cool and west coast jazz.
Mad Romance (from the 2011 album “Aim High”): Mad Romance (www.madromance.com) is a Miami-based vocal quartet which released this song on their entertaining CD “Aim High”. Here we hear a nicely arranged vocal quartet with beautiful voicings and a lovely dialog between trumpet and saxophone.
Eliane Elias (from the 2013 album “I Thought About You (A Tribute to Chet Baker)”): 50 years after Chet Baker’s recording we have tribute recording by Eliane Elias. Her voice reminds me a little bit of Chet’s voice since it has also less volume or vibrato and her style inspired by her Brazilian roots is also cool and smooth and so she finds the ideal balance for this song in her singing and in the piano solo.
All the songs are found either on Amazon or iTunes for download. I prepared a playlist on iTunes for you so you can listen yourself to the versions presented.
If you know a version of that song that is quite special or unique in it’s arrangement, please leave a comment.