Rules of Grammar


The most widely-circulated modern jazz fakebook in history was the Fifth Edition of The Real Book. On page 454, Thelonious Monk's first name is misspelled three times. That's a shame, but at one time that tricky moniker was hardly ever spelled right. Even important Monk supporter LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) writes "Thelonius" throughout the essential 60's era book Black Music

The familiar typo is bad enough, but I suspect that the composer would have been even more bothered by how almost every single bar in the chart is wrong. 

Not that inaccuracies in the pitches were something new, either. According to the Tom Lord discography, there are 413 recorded versions of "Well You Needn't." I wonder how many of them go to G for the bridge instead of D-flat. If there is any justice D-flat will be in the majority...but I'm dubious. I've heard so much G over the years.

The perpetrator of the G major fiction was Miles Davis. His first recording in 1954 with Horace Silver, Percy Heath, and Art Blakey had far more circulation than Monk's previous trio rendition in 1947. (Interesting to remember both of these Blue Note versions were for 78 or 45 rpm "singles" and not on LP until later.) Miles and Horace are moody and beautiful: I'd forgive the violations more easily if they hadn't been so influential. In addition to the completely wrong bridge, Miles plays the pickups to the first melody of A incorrectly, using B natural and C, just like the chart above. (Monk's notes are G-sharp and A.) However, Miles does at least get the rhythm of the first bar right: the high C is on the beat, not anticipated à la the Fifth Edition.

(As Mark Stryker points out, the slightly later Miles quintet version was even more popular and influential than this quartet, although I've personally always known the quartet better, and actually prefer it to this day.)


In my masterclasses, someone always plays Monk, and I always complain if the composer's chords are changed. I wrote about this just last week. While that missive didn't stop someone new from playing "Think of One" with generic chords yesterday, it did get some amusing action on Twitter.

Corey Mwamba  ‏(@coreymwamba) began the party by asking,

Do you get upset about "Well You Needn't" as well?

I replied,

Yes, that one has been especially mutilated since Miles 

Andre Canniere  (@andrecanniere) jumped in and said, 

Miles goes to G7 in the bridge, Monk goes to Db7

To which I responded, 


There was various comments by Canniere, Mwamba, and Matt Mitchell (@mattmitchellus), who said:

maybe no 7th? 6/9 chord instead? Going totally on memory


or maybe no 6

I was silent, enjoying the discussion, waiting. Finally, Vijay Iyer (@vijayiyer) delivered some serious science:

there's a blindfold test with monk where he talks about it...

"It starts with a D-flat Major 9" - Thelonious Monk

The Twitter conversation also drifted over to Darcy James Argue (@darcyjamesargueand Han-earl Park ‏(@hanearlpark). DJA spoke some truth:

Jazz musicians have a gift for messing up the simplest things: Freddie Freeloader, All Blues, Blue Bossa...

And since these are the tunes young players learn on, they also learn that no one actually listens carefully.


So, what is the chord that opens the bridge of "Well You Needn't?" I don't think it is D-flat major 9, myself -- although thanks to Vijay for reminding me of that quote!  (That whole blindfold test is great.)

After all, is that quote totally accurate? Phineas Newborn doesn't play D-flat, he goes to G.  Monk is quoted as saying, "He hit the inside wrong - didn't have the right changes. It's supposed to be major ninths, and he's playing ninths." (walks to the piano, demonstrates) "It starts with a D-flat Major 9 . . . See what I mean?" 

Doesn't it seem like something is missing?

At any rate, however he said it, I personally can't imagine Monk playing a sustained chord with a C in it to describe the bridge of "Well You Needn't."

C as a passing tone, sure. Monk played that sometimes. He also played C-flat in passing, too, like (as Canniere pointed out) on the first recording. 

But Monk tended not to play either seventh much in that bar, or indeed in any bar of the parallel harmony D-flat, D, E-flat, E...

I've just spent a little time listening to Monk's saxophonists. Since Coltrane played so much stuff all the time, he's always a good one to check out for the changes. According to legend, Coltrane was nodding out on heroin so Monk has to yell his name to wake up and solo.  (The form is quite precarious for a moment.) Coltrane pretty much avoids sevenths on the bridge, but if I had to make a ruling, I'd say it was more of a dominant sound than major seventh.

On the other hand, Charlie Rouse definitely plays some dominants. But I admit that those Rouse dominants seem less pure than when he uses just the triad, the sixth, and the ninth, which is of course what Monk mostly uses too.

In my opinion, the harmony of the bridge is low D-flat, an F a tenth above that, and an E-flat above that. Three notes; even the fifth is superfluous, although Monk does use an A-flat pretty frequently. (I would have signed off on Matt Mitchell's second tweet.)

If I had to write it, I wouldn't say D-flat seven, major seven, or even 6/9. I'd just say D-flat.

To their credit, that's how it is in the Steve Cardenas/Don Sickler Thelonious Monk Fake Book.



All this talk of the bridge, what of the A? Well, that is also a particularly weird one. Gene Ramey unquestionably plays F to G-flat on the first recording, and of course that's what everyone else has always played since. In Monk's own band (but hardly anywhere else) that move was expanded to F, G-flat, F, E-flat, etc. by Wilbur Ware, a hip idea also used by Butch Warren and Larry Gales.

But you have to listen to the bassists to get that F to G-flat chromatic vibe. Monk doesn't any of that in his low left hand, rather, he has a wonderful wandering line that he even occasonally put into a low horn. (Eddie Bert on the Steve Allen show.) While soloing, Monk's right hand hardly ever strays to G-flat, usually remaining in F throughout. 

Comping is a different story: you can hear the G-flat in Monk's high-register comping.  

Bassist Putter Smith played with Monk several times near the end. When he asked Monk if he should play F alternating with G-flat or just F, Monk shrugged and said, "Mix it up."


The point of all this, by the way, is not to slavishly imitate Monk when playing his music. The point is to find yourself through immersion in authentic canonical detail.

Miles, Horace, Percy: in 1954 they all were already canon. Those in my class aren't similarly consecrated.  

I always appreciate it when students show genuine concern about learning the details. One time Shimrit Shoshan brought a bootleg of Monk practicing "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" and I was truly impressed: Talk about the right kind of apple for the teacher!

I didn't know her well, and never heard her play outside of a few tunes at class. But I loved her direction and told her so. She was into not just Monk but Horace Silver, Herbie Nichols, Randy Weston, and Andrew Hill.  1950's piano madness, the blacker and weirder the better.

Honestly, I thought the only thing potentially holding her back was her stunning good looks, an asset I've seen become a debit more than a few times in the relentlessly hetero male NYC jazz scene. But I wasn't too worried, and looked forward to hearing what she had figured out in a few years.

I'm sure everyone who knew her was astonished to hear of her sudden passing today. The last time I saw her she was young, healthy, and vibrant. But I've talked to a few folks and the sad news is 100% confirmed. 

While finding her path, Shimrit would have definitely formed an opinion about the bridge of "Well You Needn't." I feel really down that I can't find out what it was or would have been.


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