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Though the Miami New Drama-commissioned “Queen of Basel” will have its official world premiere at Studio Theatre in Washington D.C. next season, you don’t have to wait or travel to discover how playwright Hilary Bettis has reimagined August Strindberg’s controversial 1888 classic “Miss Julie.” With three powerful actors and a small audience sharing the stage space at Miami Beach’s Co..

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Mexico City-based theater collective Teatro Ojo's works are constantly evolving. Nothing is ever really finished. That's because they take from every performance. Whatever the audience experiences, observes, feels, and offers feedback, which they highly encourage, all is used, considered, and included in the evolution of the same piece, or introduced into another new work. Two of the ..

“America’s Greatest and Least Known Playwright.”This is how the Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes is referred to several times throughout Michelle Memran’s documentary “The Rest I Make Up,” which makes its Florida debut this Saturday as part of Miami-Dade College’s Miami Film Festival. Fornes has been called the “Mother of Avant-Garde Theater.” Theater giants like Edward A..

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Consider the idea of land in Palestine, and conflict may be the first thing to come to mind. But for Jumana Emil Abboud, the Palestinian landscape evokes other, older, associations – with mythological creatures like water spirits and ghouls. “These stories were told way before 1948,” says the Galilee-born artist, speaking by phone from her home in Jerusalem. She suggests looking back ..

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On the heels of a year-plus parade of #MeToo confessions, celebrity shamings and women’s marches, comes Marisa Alma Nick’s female-power-packed “A Rebel in Venus.” “It wasn’t planned that ..

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John Beasley, Frost Concert Jazz Band: Reimagining Monk in the 21st Century

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Written by: Fernando Gonzalez
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The music of Thelonious Monk has been a source of endless fascination and with good reason. Monk’s universe has its own laws. Beautifully constructed and quirky, soulful but also paced by brushstrokes of humor, his music seems open to an endless variety of readings.

In his MONK’estra project, pianist, conductor and arranger John Beasley, whose long list of credits includes performing and recording with Miles Davis, Steely Dan, Chaka Khan and James Brown, set out to re-imagine Monk’s music in a big band setting, not as a repertory exercise but as fresh interpretations done in Monk’s spirit.

His arrangements of even some of Monk’s iconic pieces, captured in two Grammy-nominated volumes, take the music to unexpected places. “Epistrophy” hints at a rumba; the nocturnal mysteries of “‘Round Midnight” get reframed by a modern soul groove; “Little Rootie Tootie” opens with a cha cha cha, and Monk’s lesser known “Brake’s Sake” (which opens MONK’estra Vol. 2) is reborn with a muscular backbeat and a rap intervention.

Beasley will present MONK’estra in concert with the University of Miami’s Frost Concert Jazz Band, at UM’s Maurice Gusman Hall, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. He spoke to Artburst from his home in Los Angeles.

Artburst: You work with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, did this project come off that affiliation? 

John Beasley: I do master classes with them. I'm the musical director for their gala … and I am the musical director for International Jazz Day, which they produce, but this had nothing to do with the institute. It was just my love of Monk and then realizing that with the big band I could put my personality into [his music] in a different way than playing the piano.

How did you pick the songs? Some are obvious choices, but certainly not all.  

I just picked songs that were sticking in my head, songs that spoke to me. I wasn’t trying to plan it all out. In the beginning, I just chose songs that I had ideas for. But then, of course, once you are about halfway through the record you realize you need this kind of song for this, or that other song for that, to make the arc of the story. Then you go back to the drawing board and try to make it interesting and personal.

How did you approach the arranging of these pieces? Was there an overall idea? 

The songs have lots of open sections for the band to stretch a little bit, but also accompany like a piano player, or the horn players can make up riffs like in the old days [in the big bands of] Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie. I’ve tried to approach it like a small group in that it doesn't have to be that bass line every time, it doesn't have to be that drum groove every time.

So after two discs and many presentations later, this reimagining of Monk continues to evolve?  

Oh yes. It's really interesting is that the core band that made the records and does most of the work is here in Los Angeles. But I have a New York band — and they have a whole different take on it. And in Europe, bands like the Frankfurt Radio Big Band in Germany, or the Blue House Jazz Orchestra in Sweden, or the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, in Belgium, each one has a whole take on it.

And what I really like is what I'm doing in Miami with the [Frost School of Music] students. They have a whole other generational spin on it, which I totally encourage. The first day of rehearsal I always say: “Okay. You guys have been rehearsing this music, so now you know it. Now, let's open it up. I want to hear what you have to say with it. I want you to express yourself. I want to make this music yours.”

Certain things [in the arrangements] are locked in. But that's only the inspiration to go somewhere else. This is jazz. I usually say: “We're going to play jazz and we're going to improvise off this. This is not classical music. If you guys hear something, let's try it. If it doesn't work, who cares? If it works, great!”

Sometimes young musicians want to learn [the music] just like [it sounds on] the record, and to me, that's not playing jazz, jazz is […] about what you feel at that moment. It's social music. It's a conversation. So, of course, it's going to change all the time. That's what I love about it, that's what Monk wanted. If you listen to all his versions they're always different. He encourages people to be themselves — within the framework of his music.

John Beasley’s MONK’estra – Frost Concert Jazz Band, Wednesday, April 4, 7:30 p.m.; University of Miami’s Maurice Gusman Concert Hall, 1314 Miller Dr., Coral Gables; tickets:$20, Seniors: $15; https://ci.ovationtix.com/1811/performance/10187230

 



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Music writer, associate editor of the Latin GRAMMY Print & Special Projects for The Latin Recording Academy

Emmy-winner and GRAMMY®-nominated writer, critic, and editor Fernando González is the associate editor of The Latin GRAMMY Print & ..

About the Writer

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