Friday, April 2, 2010

The Short Life of Barbara Monk/Ran Blake Quartet

Now here's my plan: I will continue to include links to whole songs with each posting, but after a week or two I will eliminate those links.  I am hoping that this will keep the coppers off my back.  When and if I can find the time, I will replace those links with links to excerpts from the songs.  I have done this with a recent post on Mal Waldron

I would like this blog to be an informal but useful reference for jazz fans, and especially for those who are looking for the kind of music that I like.  I would like any reader to be able to listen to a least a little bit of the music I comment on in each post.  Ideally, I will go back through the blog and provide excerpts for all the posts.  I am not sure whether that is really worth the effort, but as I have said, doing this blog is part of my life as a jazz nerd. 

Meanwhile, I have been listening to a recording by pianist and composer Ran Blake.  I downloaded it some time ago and, as often happened, it didn't grab me when I listened to it the first time.  So it's been sitting idle on my iPod.  For some reason I punched it a couple days ago, and it is exquisite.  

I don't know much about Blake.  I have half of his solo album The Complete All That Is Tied Sessions.  How did that happen?  Like the drunk's tattoo, I haven't a clue.  The solo album is pretty far out there.  It reminds me of the solo work of Cecil Taylor, not that it sounds like Taylor as that it is the same kind of exploration.  There is a lot of space punctuated with pretty dramatic hammering.  It is interesting, if you are in the mood for that sort of thing; but it isn't all that jazzy.  

The Short Life of Barbara Monk is a treasure.  Rickey Ford plays a marvelous tenor, and in fact I think his playing is the highlight of the album.  Ed Felson plays bass, and Jon Hazilla beats the skins. It is a tribute to his friend who died of cancer in 1984, just two years after her father Thelonious Sphere Monk.  She was named after Monk's mother.  

It is hard to imagine a more perfect eulogy.  The recording is lyrical and deeply moving.  The dialogue between piano and tenor sax makes me cry.  Really.  I wish I knew more about Barbara Monk and Ran Blake, and what their friendship was like.  I miss Barbara, even thought I didn't know she existed until I listened to this recording.  If I could choose my own monument, it wouldn't be a statue or an immortal flame.  It would be recording like this.  Here is a sample. 
Ran Blake Quartet/Artistry in Rhythm/The Short Life of Barbara Monk
Now: add the recording to your collection.  It's available for a few credits at eMusic.  After you listen to it, drop me a line.  My readers have been awfully quiet of late.  Insert sad face here.

As reader Steve notes in the comments, this recording is available at  I note that the cds there are priced a bit lower than at other venues I have checked. 


  1. Thanks for your comments. Please note that readers can also buy this CD from

  2. Hello Sad Face. I believe that putting Mp3 for a limited time is a good idea. That way, we will still be able to learn about some great artists we wouldn't have known otherwise (and go by some of their records!).
    Cheer Up !

  3. Thanks, Steve and Ravel. I am happy again.

  4. This is a wonderful recording. Blake knew the Monk family pretty well so there is a personal element to the music. I too am a Monk fanatic and this recording is a credit to Monk's legacy and to Blake as a musician. It has my all-time favourite interpretation of 'I've Got You Under My Skin'. Blake should not be ignored.
    This is a great blog by the way. Thanks for all the effort.

  5. Kieron: thank you so much for the comment. I emphatically agree with all that you say. I love all of this album, but I have to agree that the first cut is exquisite.

    I am just now adding a lot of Ran Blake to my collection. I feel richer.

  6. Right now on the NPR website they're asking for people to list the top five jazz compositions ever. I rattled off the first five masterpieces that came to my head, and one of them was "Short Life of Barbara Monk." A great album all the way through. I became interested in it because I found out that Ed Felsen, who (like me) lives in Cincinnati (he's one of the owners of the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, where he also plays), is the bass player on the record.