January 30, 2018

Thelonious Monk and the Dawn of the LP


In 1948, two major forces in recorded music were unleashed on the record buying public. Columbia Records had finally perfected the Long Playing (LP) vinyl record — a technological breakthrough which would liberate musicians from the limited playing time of the standard three minute ten-inch 78rpm single. The LP allowed for longer compositions and performances, primarily in classical music and jazz, where symphonies as well as jam sessions could play out to the unheard-of length of 10 minutes per side (or 20 minutes per side on the classical oriented 12″ LP).

At basically the same time, pianist/composer Thelonious Monk’s first 78rpm recordings — made for Blue Note in late 1947 — also started to hit the market. But while the LP was an instant success, Monk’s 78rpm singles were not. No matter what Blue Note did, Monk’s records just never took off. In the summer of 1952, by mutual agreement, Monk parted company with the legendary label. Blue Note’s prime competitor, Prestige, scooped up the now available pianist, signing him to a three-year contract.

At that moment, Prestige was building its catalog of 10” jazz LPs with such major or soon to be major stars as Miles Davis, Stan Getz, The Modern Jazz Quartet and Gene Ammons. Monk’s reputation in the jazz world of 1952 was just beginning to rise, and Prestige owner/producer Bob Weinstock saw the pianist as a major signing for his label.

By 1955, as the record industry transitioned from the 10” LP to the “full-length” 12″ size Monk’s Prestige 10” LPs, were all discontinued. Over the years, these 10″ LPs have proven to be virtually impossible to find in any condition — until now.

As part of their ongoing series of 10” LP box sets, Concord/Craft has re-released all five of these rare albums in one package. Thelonious Monk – The Complete Prestige 10” LP Collection (Craft CR00031) chronicles a brief, but important period in Monk’s career and the development of his style — filling out a crucial phase in the pianist’s development between the earlier, somewhat raw Blue Note sessions and the fully realized confidence and polish of Monk’s subsequent years with Riverside.

The first Prestige LP, Thelon-ious (Prestige 142), consist of eight short trio performances clearly formatted for simultaneous release on 78rpm singles. The LP reveals Monk’s growing confidence with such soon to be classic compositions as “Monk’s Dream”, “Bemsha Swing” and “Trinkle, Tinkle.” As 78s faded from the market, this would mark basically the last time Monk, or any other jazz musician, would be constrained by the 78rpm format’s three-minute limit.

When Monk made his next LP in November 1953, both Monk and Prestige finally took advantage of the extra time afforded by the LP format with an album called Thelonious Monk Quintet Blows for LP (Prestige 166). Marking the first time Monk would record with a young Sonny Rollins, this LP would present Monk’s first extended performances. “Friday the Thirteenth” (at 10:33 long), “Let’s Call This” (5:04) and “Think of One” (5:44) completely max out the twenty-minute limit of the 10″ LP format.

1954 would see a flurry of recording activity, with three LPs made between May and October. Thelonious Monk Quintet (Prestige 180), Thelonious Monk Plays (Prestige 189) and Sonny Rollins with Thelonious Monk (Prestige 190) would all present the pianist in extended trio or larger group settings. 1954 would also see the end of the 10″ LP.

Monk may have given Prestige Records a certain caché, but the pianist’s sales there were no better than at Blue Note. By the first part of 1955, Monk was getting restless with the label. Prestige had only utilized him once after the Rollins LP recorded in October. That was for Miles Davis’ “Jazz Giants” LP — a session that was musically interesting, but unpleasant experience to record.

This inactivity and frustration, added to the lack of sales and perceived lack of support from Prestige itself, made Monk very receptive to an offer from the nascent Riverside label. But with several months remaining on Monk’s Prestige contract, as well as Monk owing the company $108.27, Prestige was not about to let the pianist go. Furthermore, if Prestige thought one of its competitors wanted him, chances are they would not release him.

Riverside’s producer Orrin Keepnews figured that if Monk could personally repay the loan without Prestige knowing about Riverside’s interest, Prestige would be glad to release him from his contract. Monk agreed. At Riverside, Monk’s talent would be fully realized in a series of breakthrough albums, including “Brilliant Corners” and the legendary “Monk’s Music”.

The short time that Monk spent at Prestige may not have been as commercially successful as both the pianist and the label had hoped, but these recordings laid the groundwork for what was to come. As such, Thelonious Monk – The Complete Prestige 10” LP Collection provides a crucial link in the development of a true American original.

Armand Lewis buys and sells rare Jazz LPs. He can be reached at

A Tribute to a Special Guy
Spence Wootton
11/28/1945 – 12/08/2017

We lost one of the best recently. Not only was Spence special to me, but to many other Doo-wop collectors. He was kind, generous and had a great sense of humor. When I first met Spence in Allentown. It was my first show there, and it was my best one, selling-wise. He and Ken Fuchs would let me park my records behind their table. Spence and Kenny took good care of me. Kenny would let me stay at his house, then drive me to the show. Spence would let some L.A. guys stay at his house; how he put up with those vinyl junkies, I’ll never know. But that’s the kind of guy he was.

He specialized in R&B Doo-wop groups and I have been told he had a string of antique stores back in the day, among other enterprises. I’ll never forget when he told me, “Eddie, if you become a Republican you will sell more records”. He knew I’m a staunch Democrat. He and I would kid a lot. He liked using the phrase “sounds good.” Now I’m saying it all the time.

That first show in Allentown I remember so clearly. I bought my first record from him: Rama-30 – “Miss You,” Red Wax by the Crows. The title to that record sums up the way I feel about Spence. I’m gonna miss the hell out of him.

I want to thank his daughter, Laura. I think of her and Spence when I play her CD’s, Laura’s Picks. Boy, she has great taste. Must have gotten it from her dad.

Goodbye for now Spence. We’re all gonna miss you!

– Eddie Estrada


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