Thelonious Monk’s masterpiece gets a witty remake for a Jewish holiday

Bay Area musician and songwriter John Schott is planning an unusual rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.” Photo: Cookie Segelstein

On the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Bay Area guitarist and songwriter John Schott plans to lead a band of star musicians through a eight hour interpretation of jazz pianist Thelonious Monk’s most famous composition, “Round Midnight”.

The concert is scheduled for June 4 at Light Rail Studios in San Francisco and will be streamed online as the centerpiece of an event hosted by Restart, a non-profit organization that reinvents Jewish thought and traditions through arts and culture.

The choice of “‘Round Midnight” was inspired by “multiple correlations”, according to Schott.

“Midnight, and its precise determination, has deep significance in Jewish scripture; by tracing the word midnight in Jewish writings, you can learn a lot about rabbinical thought,” he explained. “There’s a famous recording of Monk practicing ‘Round Midnight’ for 25 minutes, putting it under a microscope, so to speak, even though he’d played it thousands of times before. The message is: there is always more to discover. »

David Katznelson, CEO of Reboot, said the idea of ​​building the night around this song was even simpler: “It’s one of the greatest musical pieces of our time.”

On Shavuot, religious Jews traditionally stay up all night to study sacred texts. For this performance, more than a dozen musicians are expected to bring a similar approach to Monk’s jazz standard, treating it “like a one night study sessionas they riff on the original compositions from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.

Each of the song’s 48 bars, which typically takes 90 seconds to perform, will be stretched to 10 minutes to complete the marathon performance.

“John has a notebook and has created a page for every 20 minutes of work he does,” Katznelson said. “It includes the notation of ‘Round Midnight’ plus all those quotes around it.

Schott added: “The 48 bars of the piece are spread over 24 pages, surrounded by images, musical analysis and passages from the Torah and the Talmud. Some pages are quite dense, others spared. I feel like I could keep layering on this “commentary” for a long time as ideas and music both tend to proliferate.

Thelonious Monk in New York, circa September 1947. Photo: William P. Gottlieb/Getty Images

Each section of the song “will be treated as an object of contemplation and commentary,” according to the event description.

“Modern life is dominated by ringtones and tweets,” Schott said. “I’m looking for the kind of temporal experience you would get listening to an ancient bard of epic oral poetry, spinning ‘The Iliad’ or the ‘Mahabharata’ or the Book of Lamentations all night long.”

Grammy nominee Schott is known for his work as a member of the Bay Area jazz improv ensemble TJ Kirk with Charlie Hunter.

A page from musician and composer John Schott’s notebook on Thelonius Monk’s revamp of “Round Midnight” Photo: John Schott

He will be joined for this performance by vocalists Aurora Josephson and Cecilia Engelhart, wind instrumentalists Nikita Manin and Cory Wright, cellist Crystal Pascucci, vibraphonist Mark Clifford, trombonist Scott Larson, bassist Jason Hoopes and percussionists Suki O’ Kane, Jason Levis and John Hanes.

“I don’t know anywhere else that something like this is done,” Katznelson said.

“”Round Midnight reconsidered””: 9 p.m. on June 4 and 5. $36, which includes two drink tickets with a taco truck dinner and additional snacks. Proof of vaccination required at the door. Light Rail Studios, 672 Toland Place, SF

  • Aidin Vaziri

    Aidin Vaziri is the pop music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @MusicSF

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