The Jazzcat

Monkestra along with a Tribute to Errol Garner and Geri Allen at The Walt Disney Concert Hall!

by on Mar.11, 2018, under News

Any night of music at the Walt Disney Concert hall has the highest probability of being spectacular simply because it’s such a magical place. Many patrons come early, eat, visit the bar, roam around the bookstore or spend time admiring the architecture. On a few occasions, there is something special happenings in BP Hall and tonight, Director Cynthia Exum of The Leimert Park Book Lounge is on hand with a number of fantastic vendors representing the art and culture of the village. All in celebration of the great Thelonious Monk!

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I quite frequently use the word tapestry to describe the fabric that the musicians weave with the music. This time, I mean it literally when speaking of a true tapestry and multi-media artist and Master, Kisasi Ramsess! He travels all over the world representing the music we love as he weaves, paints, draws and constructs intricate images of musicians past and present on cards, calendars, T-shirts, posters, stained glass and yes, on tapestry!

Martell Cognac was on hand providing the patrons with their version of “Straight No Chaser”, a golden sip and a luxurious burn for the right cosmic vibration to take in creativity. A fine display of jazz books, records and memorabilia was on hand as well courtesy of Jeffery Winston of the California Jazz Foundation, producer of Straight Ahead Jazz Plus, Chet Hanley, The California Jazz and Blues Foundation and mother of Leimert Park, Ms. Barbara Morrison. 

As a man, and author who has spent many years researching the finest details when it come to Thelonious Monk, jazz historian Robin D.G. Kelly is in the house with his new updated version fresh off the press; “Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an America Original”. So new, he has opened up the box but, has not had the chance to even turn one page! I made sure I bought the first copy!

Errol Garner and Concert by the Sea, originally recorded in Carmel California, is just one of the classic recordings but, an inspiration to Geri Allen who just a few short years ago in 2015, put together a project honoring the legendary pianist. The Errol Garner Project: Concert-by-the-Sea featured three outstanding pianists; Jason Moran, Christian Sands and of course Geri Allen. Errol has long departed and just recently, way too soon for all of us, Geri has joined the ranks of our fallen and uplifted angels of the music. The concert tonight opens with a recreation of that project with again three phenomenal pianists; Christian Sands, Helen Sung and Gerald Clayton.

Each generation has produced incredible talent that is all too often overlooked by the regular closed eared, routine layman over shadowed by bright light facades. But always, in the trenches and practice rooms of the world, emerges superior creative talent whose passion and dedication force them to seek out that which makes their sound superior; truly their best!

Musicians are musicians and choose not to be in a box with a label so we are blessed that these three have chosen to embrace jazz as their primary sound.


The magic of film brings back vivid sounds and memories that put us back in time to touch on nostalgia as we forge into the future. Fearless virtuosity indeed. In a moments notice, after watching excerpts of Errol Garner on the big screen, there is Music! On the stage are three grand pianos with their tops removed to amplify the vibration. Sands, Clayton and Sung, three brains, six arms, thirty phalanges, eighty eight keys, one melody. That’s about thirty-one toes to be stepped on but, everyone is in true harmony! Joined by Russell Malone on guitar, Darek Oles on bass and Victor Lewis on drums, it’s quite a dirge into a delightful abyss, recapturing the essence of that which was and basking in its warmth.

Gerald speaks about the multiple masters of the music Eroll and Geri and how their sound has been appreciated in their vast contribution of the music. When you listen to Gerald play, you feel the natural fluidity of his expression as if you were the notes gliding on and off of the staff. A true ride of pleasure. On the standard “Autumn Leaves” Gerald shows us that this generation paid attention and respects the mastery of the past and that the sound will continue to be treasured for a millennium to come.

Each pianist had their own individual turn with the rhythm section. Helen swings the way of the Blues on “Sweet and Lovely”. Jazz with the underling foundation of classical, exuding happiness and a love for the music and her fellow musicians has catapulted this humble star to the light. Helen talks about lovely memories of Geri.


Christian embodies the style, stride and swag of yesteryear as that Dr. Billy elegance shines brilliantly, he takes this generation by storm with one foot in and the rest stretching out! The sound is spewing out of his body as he rolls across those keys with the lightest touch and the flyest delivery. Devine! He talks about his excitement of playing and loving how sharp Errol was back in the day.

Russell Malone lives for the blues. He is one of the most proficient and immaculate guitar players their is and as Christian puts it, “a living legend”. Bobbing his head and tapping his feet as he gazes at Helen while digging her swing! On his own solo, there is no doubt that the clearest intonation is articulated and the heart and soul of the blues is at his and your fingertips! Russell describes Geri Allen as a visionary and fearless. He quotes Dr. Billy Taylor “Just as Eroll was not intimidated by Art Tatum”.

100 years of Thelonious Monk genius vibrating and thriving through the test of time on planet earth. A special night of music indeed led by one of the great composers, arrangers and musicians of this generation, Mr. John Beasley! Notions of the unfolding dream that is Thelonious Monk, layer by layer take shape and form into modern day contemporary swing, groove and hip hop delight.

Oh that Thelonious Monk, he’s crazy” says the Sphere himself, who clearly knows something that us mere mortals have taken years to understand!

The visuals begin and so does the swing, the dance, and the spin! The joy and jubilant rhythms of Master Monk. The men in Black are “Rhythmining”. Splashes and flashes of Monk on screen synchronized and dancing to to his own piano. Beasley did a phenomenal job of taking footage of Monk and not only incorporating it into the performance but, arranging it so Monk and the band are actually playing together!

Monkestra plays many of Monks great tunes with that phat horn section and then, Monk comes in to a solo. Its fantastic! Arranging the proper synchronization has been more of a challenge than John expected but, the show and the music were on point! Dee Dee comes out and is honored to be a part of this extraordinary performance and says she’s nervous but, if you know Dee Dee, she is about to tear it up! She sings while Monk and Monkestra play Round Midnight. Ben Sheppard gets into a duo trade with Dee Dee then Terreon breaks it down and the groove begins.

The footage shows Monk walking down the street in New York getting accolades from admirers, him on the road with Nellie, Johnny Griffin and the cats, with Pannonica, in the studio, him dancing in the train station and on stage. It took some meticulous precision to place the scenes exactly where they made the most sense and impact. The sweetest is watching Nellie get Monk dressed while Dee Dee drops a lovely version of “Ruby My Dear”.

Quotes by critics also appear on the screen and as I mentioned earlier, it took quite a while for folks, even people who claimed to know the music to even get a clue. The small minority understand progress while the rest like to hold onto what they know as fact. But, the 360 degree Sphere keeps turning and if you stand still, and don’t run towards to embrace, you’ll just fall off into the pile of naysayers. As you can imagine, not so encouraging words were written. Monk’s only reply….”Never listen to the hecklers”, “Writing about the music is like dancing to Architecture”. Yeah, who does that?

At the most perfect point between songs transitioning, a close-up of Monk’s smiling image appears on screen and then, Disney goes dark! Sirens and flashing lights; this was exciting! We all thought that perhaps the next scenes were Monk being harassed by the Police or getting his Cabaret card taken. Turned out, that it was an alarm that rang out through Disney Hall with words asking us to be calm and remain in our seats! The flashing lights were so cool and for a minute, I thought that Beasley and the cats were going to play it! But, as the thoughtful cat that John is, he went check so that we would all be safe. Turns out that the alarm was triggered from a room where no one was or had access to.  All we remembered was the last image we saw of Monk, close up smiling. “Humph”? Well, if you “Ask Me Now”, I would say “Monk’s Mood” was “Criss Crossing” “Off Minor” around “Brilliant Corners”! There’s no “Evidence” but when “Monk’s Dreams”, it can be a little “Nutty” and “Misterioso”. “Well You Needn’t” worry, the lights came back on and the band continued on with that “Bemsha Swing” as then played a killer version of “Skippy”

After the alarm and flashing light’s incident, Monk’s next quotes read…

“Stop playin’ all that bull*!^%$”.

The Spirit of Monk lives on in many ways! You got to Dig it, Dig It Dig it!!

LeRoy Downs

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