The T. S. Monk Sextet is making its first-ever San Francisco appearance at the Great American Music Hall. Its bandleader, the ebullient and loquacious drummer T. S. Monk, is the son of legendary pianist Thelonious Monk who would have been ninety years old this year. He last performed the previous year, together with pianist Jason Moran, in a tribute to his father's appearance at Town Hall.
This time around, he's appearing at a more intimate venue and with his band, many of whose members have been with the ensemble for years. Downbeat readers voted Monk on Monk, the 1997 tribute album to his father, the year's top album in its Reader’s Poll. The New York Jazz Awards awarded it the "Recording of the Year."
The band opens with "Chester's Delight," and trumpeter Tanya Darby is the first to solo. She is followed by pianist Helen Sung, a remarkably gifted young musician and a graduate of the Thelonious Monk Academy. Donning sunglasses and wearing gold earrings, Monk, drumstick in hand, then comes to the mike at the number’s end. "You know how I dig these people. Randy Weston used to come to my father's house, and I used to run to the closet and cry. I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t show you what the Quintet does with Monk."
Next, Monk's "Think of One" has a bass solo by Dave Jackson and is closed by a Monk drum solo. Several more tunes follow along with more spirited discourse from Monk. Alto sax player Bob Porcelli and tenor sax player Willie Williams, whom T. S. maintains "grew up on Teddie Pendergast," turn in stellar performances. Not everybody is as thrilled with the music as I am. A few tables over a woman with a black-and-white striped blouse checks her e-mail. The band closes out with Monk's "Little Rootie Toot," a tune prefaced by T. S. remarking that "This tune is hard for everybody, but it is particularly hard for everybody." The ensemble encores with Monk's "Skippy."