“Complete Live at the Five Spot 1958” is a lo-fi recording featuring John Coltrane and his wife, Naima Coltrane, working as the audio engineer for the album. It captures the vibrant jazz scene of Harlem of time while also giving a realistic snapshot club life there. It feels like a secret taping capturing the mundanity of the storied venue’s glory days. But the music from Monk and company is so demanding and striking that it sheds the rough edges.
When people talk about music, they often point toward a few great characters who changed everything all on their own. But the reality is often stranger and more complicated than even a handful of great people. Thelonious Monk was one of those shadow characters who impacted jazz’s modern age as strongly as Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis but never got the mainstream credit. The jazz pianist and composer was an early creator of bebop which dominated post-war jazz but would remain largely invisible until collaborating with John Coltrane. He popularized harmonic techniques that avant-garde jazz would become known for in the ‘60s and onwards. He finally received serious recognition by the early ‘60s as one of the most influential jazz composers of the century.