Thelonious Monk were the two most "significant pianists of the style of modern jazz that came to be known as bop." Critic Scott Yanow explains that Powell created a new way of playing for post-swing pianists. Instead of using the left-hand stride style, "he used his left hand to state chords on an irregular basis" while his right "often played speedy single-note lines, essentially transforming Charlie Parker's vocabulary to the piano." Powell's most essential work was recorded in the 1940s and early 1950s, before the onset of mental illness which resulted in long stretches of hospitalization. The Amazing Bud Powell, Volumes One and Two, recorded for Blue Note, are just that, amazing. Powell moved to Paris in 1959, when his talent was considered very much eroded, but one of the albums he made in France, A Portrait of Thelonious, is a fitting tribute to his old friend and is thoroughly enjoyable. As Dan Morgenstern's liner notes explain, rather than merely using Monk's compositions as a springboard for improvisation in his own style, Powell took the much tougher route of attempting to "maintain the structure and feeling of the piece as intended by Monk, while adding [his] own personal touches." It works completely. Morgenstern acknowledges that Powell's "dazzling pyrotechnics, the wild humor, the youthful exuberance are no more," but they are replaced by "serenity, lucidity, reflectiveness, and an economy of means which, no matter whether cause or effect, has resulted in a paring down to musical essentials of one of the great seminal styles of jazz piano." This one is well worth listening to again and again.
[Related posts: Really Great Jazz Albums, #1 (Hank Mobley), #2 (Horace Silver), #3 (Sonny Rollins), #4 (Sonny Clark), #5 (Dexter Gordon), #6 (Cannonball Adderley), #7 (Bill Evans), #8 (McCoy Tyner), #9 (Clifford Brown), #10 (Sinatra), #11 (Monk), #12 (Kenny Dorham), #13 (Coltrane), #14 (Duke Ellington), #15 (Miles Davis), #16 (Wayne Shorter), #17 (Dinah Washington); #18 (Sarah Vaughan); #19 (Stan Getz); #20 (Blue Mitchell); #21 (Gene Ammons); #22 (Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers); #23 (Red Garland); #24 (Ella Fitzgerald); #25 (Charlie Parker); #26 (Art Pepper)]