Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Monk's Music Trio is an acoustic hard bop trio that is devoted exclusively to the compositions of the influential pianist Thelonious Monk (b. Oct. 10, 1917; d. Feb. 17, 1982). The concept of a repertory jazz group with a Monk-only focus is not unprecedented; from 1961-1964, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and trombonist Roswell Rudd co-led a New York City-based quartet that was called School Days and played nothing but Monk pieces. And 1982 saw the rise of Sphere, which started out as a Monk tribute band but went on to record a lot of non-Monk tunes before calling it quits in 1988 after the death of group member Charlie Rouse (a tenor saxophonist who had spent many years in Monk's employ). But because Monk was such a prolific composer, the concept of a Monk-only group has not worn out its welcome. One of the things that has made Monk's Music Trio interesting is the group's willingness to embrace a wide variety of Monk compositions -- some quite famous, some more obscure. Instead of strictly playing well-known standards such as "Round Midnight" (which producer Orrin Keepnews described as "the national anthem of jazz"), "Well, You Needn't," "Epistrophy," and "In Walked Bud," the members of Monk's Music Trio have also tackled their share of lesser-known Monk songs. The group has recorded famous standards like "Ask Me Now," "Rhythm-a-Ning," and "Pannonica" -- all of which have been recorded many times over the years -- but they have also unearthed lesser-known tunes such as "Stuffy Turkey," "Coming on the Hudson," "Boo Boo's Birthday," "Work," and "Two Timer" (which Monk never got around to recording when he was alive -- the first recorded version came from the pianist's son, T.S. Monk, on the 1997 release Monk on Monk).
The original lineup of Monk's Music Trio was formed in the late '90s, when veteran drummer Chuck Bernstein approached pianist Si Perkoff about the possibility of putting together a piano trio that would play Monk tunes exclusively. Perkoff, who was considered a major Monk expert in Bay Area jazz circles, liked the idea -- and the fact that Perkoff's pianism was greatly influenced by Monk (as well as Bud Powell and Horace Silver) certainly didn't hurt. Frank Passantino was hired to play acoustic bass; subsequently, he left the trio and was replaced by Bay Area native Sam Bevan. Harmony of Odd Numbers, the trio's first album, was released in 2003 on the CMB label; that disc was followed by their sophomore album, Think of One, which CMB released in 2004. ~ Alex Henderson