Blue Monk, Thelonius Monk

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Blue Monk, Thelonius Monk
Year of Composition: 1954    
Frank Reinshagen


Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Saturday, February 9, 2002
Saxophone quartet wails despite losing UB gig
Jan Jezioro

Leaving the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's concert at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Friday evening, a patron was overheard to remark, "All that talent, and you can really tell that they love what they're doing."

That comment, though perhaps made casually, pretty much sums up what almost everyone who has attended any of the quartet's concerts over the years has felt.

This concert, the third in the quartet's series at Westminster, was titled "The Mid-Winter Blues," an idea to which Buffalonians can readily relate. The idea of the blues took on a particular poignancy, however, when the frontman, tenor Stephen Rosenthal, told the audience that the group had just learned that its residency at the University at Buffalo, now in its eighth year, is being terminated.

Rosenthal dropped this bad news on the audience just before the last scheduled piece on the program, "All Right Blues," composed by alto Russ Carere. The group then proceeded to play the pants off this jazz tour de force.

Carere treats his partners right in this piece, letting the tenor, and baritone Harry Fackelman, lead off with an up-tempo duet before his hard-blowing solo. Rosenthal returned for an extended riff over the baritone, with soprano Susan Fancher getting in her own licks before the tenor's final honk.

A well-deserved standing ovation earned the audience a couple of encores: a novelty number, played impossibly fast, and the ragtime "Southern Beauties," played with the kind of good humor that you don't usually expect from people who have just found out that they've lost their jobs.

The program had opened unexpectedly, with a short, celebratory overture by Vivaldi, followed by the "Saxophone Quartet," composed for the group in 1985 by the late UB professor Carlo Pinto. This tightly constructed quartet was convincingly played, from the solemn opening lento, succeeded by the anticipatory nervousness of the presto, through the sleepwalking andante, with its held notes over a baritone drone. The final movement had all the players soloing before the creamy-sounding unison finish.

Buffalo composer Stephen Parisi's "Nina's Samba" was a jumping, up-tempo delight. Extended solo riffs for each of the instruments highlighted this infectious number, which wanted to make you get up and dance.

Composer Frank Ticheli describes his recent composition "Out of the Blue" as a work of "urgent, jazzy, hyperactive energy," and as played by the quartet, it proved to be all of that. The opening detached figures develop into a motor-driven perpetual motion, becoming spikier before reaching a pause. Slow down-phrasing by the tenor and baritone briefly interrupt the propulsive pace, which soon increases intensity, rushing headlong to the ending, giving the listener one heck of a ride.

Miles Davis' standard "Nardis" featured the sinewy playing of Fancher, while Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" was played with breathless energy, interrupted by the required swinging interludes, nicely running out of steam at the finish.

Thelonius Monk's signature number, "Blue Monk," was definitely more happy than blue, in an up-tempo treatment that featured some tight duets and hot riffs.

All Right Blues (1996), Russ Carere
Nina's Samba, Stephen Parisi
Out of the Blue, Frank Ticheli
Nardis, Miles Davis
Blue Rondo a la Turk, Dave Brubeck
Blue Monk, Thelonius Monk
Saxophone Quartet (1985), Carlo Pinto
Saxophone quartet wails despite losing UB gig
Reading Eagle/Reading Times (Reading, PA)
Monday, February 22, 1993
Offbeat Amherst musicians provide a musical adventure
Susan L. Pena

In a concert that showed just how well-deserved their Chamber Music America award for adventuresome programming was, the Amherst Saxophone Quartet inaugurated the Gertrude Sternbergh Concert Series of the Star series Association Saturday night at the Albright College Meridian Theatre.

Besides hearing the rare sounds of four saxophones playing both chamber music and jazz, the audience had a dollop of comedy thrown in unexpectedly by tenor player Stephen Rosenthal.

Blasting the stereotypical image of serious chamber musician, Rosenthal opened the program by deadpanning his way through a series of rules for the audience that included "no breathing allowed." His introductions to the pieces, often worthy of P.D.Q. Bach, had the audience in stitches; seconds later listeners would be raptly absorbing (or "audiating") the quartet's wonderful, unique sound.

Unsurprisingly, that sound is somewhere between a woodwind quintet and a brass ensemble; saxophones combine the burnished sound of brass with the flexibility and slight nasality of oboes and clarinets.

In the hands of these remarkable players - Salvatore Andolina on soprano, Russell Carere on alto and Harry Fackelman on baritone in addition to Rosenthal - the instrument becomes a natural conduit for virtually every style of music.

One can't help but wonder how Bach, who never heard a sax, would have liked their rendition of his Toccata BWV 913. Certainly he couldn't have asked for a more sprightly fugue, or a more precise, controlled, and often frisky rendering of the fast passages.

Hearing Verdi's Quartet in E Minor on wind instruments took some getting used to - it really sounded like a whole different piece; still, the group certainly captured the dramatic spirit of the work.

The second movement, a gracious, bittersweet waltz that Violetta might have sung, worked especially well in this reading, as did the elfin Prestissimo. They negotiated the final, quasi-fugal movement with élan, in spite of its being tricky to play, especially when you blow it rather than bow it.

They opened the second half of the program with the winner of their own composition competition, Chan Ka Nin's brilliant, quirky Saxophone Quartet, subtitled "Among Friends." Busy and replete with effects at the beginning, the piece mellows into a lyrical set of solos for each instrument, like walking from a marketplace to a quiet park. It showed what can emerge when a composer writes expressly for this ensemble, using all of the instruments' capabilities.

The rest of the program was given over to all kinds of jazz, from Thelonious Monk's Blue Monk," which included a wonderful duet for soprano and baritone and great soprano solos, to ragtime with a bow to Eubie Blake. All of it proved they could groove as well as the next sax player.

A delightful departure was Carere's "Jill[y] Bean Walk," a Chaplinesque cakewalk of the golliwogish persuasion dedicated to his three-year old daughter and her peculiar gait. All four obviously enjoyed playing this number.

Also included were a splendid arrangement of "When the Saints Go Marching In," a familiar syncopated morsel whose name no one could remember (and they wouldn't tell), and, as an encore, Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther."

Quartet in e minor, Giuseppe Verdi
Saxophone Quartet, Chan Ka Nin
Blue Monk, Thelonius Monk
Jilly Bean Walk, Russ Carere
News-Journal (Daytona Beach, FL)
Saturday, August 10, 1991
Sax quartet surprises Volusians
Eleanore Osborne

When it comes to the classics, the saxophone is the Rodney Dangerfield of instruments, with no permanent place in the symphony orchestra.

Yet the instrument's flexibility and virtuosity were convincingly portrayed Friday in a chamber music concert by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet.

The program, presented at the Ormond Beach Performing Arts Center, was part of the New Horizon series of the Florida International Festival, offering the new or the unexpected — whether in new instruments or in new sounds.

Indeed, when asked, a majority of concert-goers said they had never before heard a saxophone quartet, which says something not only for the series but for the adventurous spirit of the Daytona Beach audience.

The superbly skilled saxophonists were: Salvatore Andolina, soprano saxophone; Russell Carere, alto; Stephen Rosenthal, tenor; and Harry Fackelman, baritone. Rosenthat also served as moderator, giving notes as the program progressed, and proving his skill as humorist as well as musician.

The program was a mix of "popular" music in the second half, and "unpopular," as Rosenthal jokingly described it, in the classical first half, beginning with the Concerto BWV 913, which he dubbed the "Yuppie Concerto." In this composition by J.S. Bach, the singing, string-like sounds of the instruments were emphasized and, particularly in the Fugue, the lush tones of the alto.

A second piece, written especially for saxophone quartet, and therefore unique in and of itself, was "Pieces pour Quatuor de Saxophones" by Jean Pierre Beugniot, a modern composition "very much of the 20th century," according to Rosenthal. "Sevilla," by J. Albeniz, was especially impressive for its light, refined tones and harmonic backgrounds.

"Blue Monk," by Thelonious Monk, kicked off the second part of the program, with a stunning soprano sax lead, underscored by the baritone playing the bass part, which was great fun to listen to.

A Duke Ellington suite, and several ragtime selections, by Eubie Blake and others, were neatly executed, nicely syncopated, and interestingly colored. For me, the saxophone need not take second place to any wood or brass instrument. Especially in hands like these.

Concerto BWV 913, Johann Sebastian Bach
Pieces pour Quatuor de Saxophones, Jean Pierre Beugniot
Sevilla, Isaac Albéniz
Blue Monk, Thelonius Monk
Sax quartet surprises Volusians
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, January 14, 1991
Adolph Sax's 'phone' recalled
Herman Trotter

Amherst quartet shows contrast in old, new works

About a century and a half ago Adolph Sax's saxophone first warbled a tune and won a silver medal at the Paris Exposition.

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet took note of this historical fact in Sunday's concert,

and by way of honoring the saxophone and its inventor they programmed the oldest known work for four saxes, Belgian composer Jean Baptiste Singelee's 1857 First Quartet, Op. 53, and one of the newest, David Stock's 1990 "Sax Appeal."

These works were not played consecutively, but it was still easy, in the ASQ's excellent performances, to hear the vast broadening in tonal, harmonic and especially textural vocabulary which the saxophone quartet as a genre has undergone during that time.

Although the five-movement Singelee opus had the requisite contrasts in tempo, its sonorities were predominantly smooth and silky, its lines liquid and free flowing, with great attention paid by the composer to proper voice leading.

The music, particularly the three slower movements, had a feeling of academic correctness guided by an inventive mind. Singelee's individuality seemed to emerge mostly in the two fast movements, in which loose-limbed rhythms and the use of staccato phrasing was prominent.

Stock, who is director of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and a member of the Duquesne University faculty, wrote "Sax Appeal" for the ASQ. It's an eclectic piece which nonetheless bears the composer's individual stamp of easy expressiveness and wit within the context of an obviously serious compositional essay.

The greatly enlarged vocabulary was clearly audible from the outset, with its eccentric, nervous pulsing. Also discerned were some extraordinarily wide pitch ranges at the seams, coruscating runs of great difficulty and a satisfying sense of form. It concluded with a sudden retreat to pianissimo.

The second movement, called Blues, evoked the sonority of 1940s swing bands' reed sections, but with progressively more intricate rhythms, much use of silence as a structural element, and tiered or layered entrances. It connected directly to the Sarabande.

Tonally low lying at first, this intriguing movement edged progressively higher ,after each appearance of a chordal refrain or other linking passage, then moved through a series of sequential entrances, the stateliness of the sarabande dance form preserved throughout.

The last movement revealed wide timbral contrasts, a lot of cat-and-mouse chasing in frantic, scurrying motion, and at one point the novel sound of one of the reeds overblown just enough to simulate a bulbous, woody timbre like an amplified English horn.

This was the work's third performance, and the ASQ has mastered it. It's an exciting addition to sax literature.

The program concluded with the Saxophone Quartet No. I by Eddie Sauter, the famed big band arranger and partner in the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra. His quartet, however, sounded to these ears like a brief homage to Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," from the upper register baritone solo which invoked Stravinsky's opening bassoon solo, right on through many of its other motivic and rhythmic devices. It's a very interesting and probing piece.

Earlier, Jean Pierre Beugniot's "Pieces for Saxophone Quartet" also made a strong case for itself. The four sections were character ized by accessible atonality and movements featuring brief motivic elements and rapid noodling over a howling baritone ostinato, a martial fantasy, a smooth and progressively more tonal Andante movement, and a scampering tour de force as a Finale.

The audience was rewarded with yet another superb performance as an encore, Thelonius Monk's "Blue Monk." It was an easy swinging blues featuring an attractive looping soprano solo over a baritone walking bass.

Premiere Quatuor pour Saxophones, Op. 53 (1857), Jean Baptiste Singelee
Sax Appeal (1990), David Stock
Saxophone Quartet No. 1, Eddie Sauter
Pieces pour Quatuor de Saxophones, Jean Pierre Beugniot
Blue Monk, Thelonius Monk
Adolph Sax's 'phone' recalled

Composer Biography

1920 — 1982

THELONIOUS SPHERE MONK (1920-1982) At a time when pianists were practicing in order to play with maximum speed, Monk was inventing a new approach to the instrument. Thelonious Monk's style is heavily dependent on his rhythmic virtuosity and inventiveness. Monk sacrificed techniques of manual dexterity for techniques of expressiveness. A master of displaced accents, shifting meters, and anticipations, he shared similarities with Miles Davis. Davis and Monk were more than comfortable with the effective pause, and thoughtful use of space, rest, and silence.