Due to his experimental compositions, Monk earned a reputation from critics and some jazz fans as being too challenging to listen to. So after many flopping records and a poor deal with Riverside Records, he was convinced to record an accessible cover album of Duke Ellington. But despite lacking Monk’s signature abrasiveness in favor of digestible covers, the album still contains some of Monk’s best work. He doesn’t simply cover the music but rather reinterprets it within his style, creating angular and deep versions of Ellington's inherently melodic music.
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.