On January 30th, virtuoso pianists Jeremy Kahn and Steven Millon put on a hot and sexy concert as part of the “Around the Town” series at the Music Institute of Chicago’s Nichols Hall, 1490 N. Chicago Ave, Evanston. The evening, entitled “Double Monk”, consisted of 8 works by American jazz pianist and composer Thelonius Sphere Monk, generally acknowledged as one of the finest jazz musicians of all time. The duo was joined on several of the pieces by modern dancer Ariane Dolan, who choreographed and performed her own dances, consisting of pirouettes, jazz- walks, struts and lyrical sashays which cleverly accompanied the pianists’ arrangements. The acoustics in this beautiful and cozy space were-as always-superb.
Thelonius Monk was known for his “uniquely playful” jazz style. One aspect of his focus centered on playing notes that “didn’t always correspond to the particular chord or key that was being played”. One of the most striking aspects of this beautifully rendered concert was just how well the two pianists worked together. Millon often seemed to be chanting in “scat”, and would sometimes rise from his seat in enthusiasm. Kahn appeared to caress the keys lovingly. They often exchanged glances, and smiles, and the music poured forth with a sweet and fluid grace of it’s own.
The set list for the program, and a word or two about each piece follows:
-“Evidence”, first recorded in 1959, based loosely on the standard “Just You, Just Me”; it is a fragmented tune with notes that seem random but the piece is held together both by one five-note phrase that continues to recur, as well as the back and forth cover of the two fine pianists.
-“Ugly Beauty”, recorded in 1968 and the only waltz Monk ever wrote. It’s a hauntingly beautiful ballad; sometime after Monk released it, Mike Ferro added lyrics and recorded it as “Still We Dream”.
- The rollicking “Bye-Ya”, recorded in 1952, once referred to as “a devilish riff fest”.
-“Let’s Cool One”, recorded in 1952; the piece has been described as “beyond revolutionary”, made when the artist was “exuberant and creatively subversive”.
-“Criss-Cross”, one of Monk’s more critically acclaimed compositions, described as “swing-influenced bop”, featuring complex harmony and melody.
-“Ask Me Now”, 1951 a well-known ballad and jazz standard; the tune centers around Db major, but is actually written with no key indicated on the chord charts “due to the many other key centers it explores”.
-“Humph”, first recorded in 1947; it’s been re-recorded often and included on many compilations of Monk’s music- variously described as bebop, witty, urgent, exuberant and sophisticated- it is an affirming and celebratory piece
-“San Francisco Holiday”; also known as “Worry Later”, first released in 1960; it “flirts with elements of stride, dazzles with dizzying arpeggios, punctuates phrases with definitive downbeat demarcations and utilizes the entire range of the instrument’, according to a fine review by Benedetto Colangiovanni in “Artifacts, A Journal of Undergraduate writing of The University of Missouri”.
The concert was well-attended, beautifully played, and the dancing was provocative and set off the music with style and flair.