Two of the founders of modern jazz, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie, were born two weeks apart in 1921. In honor of their centenary together, here’s a lot of information on Monk’s “Round Midnight” and the role it plays. Dizzy played into the shaping of his arrangement.
It is certainly Monk’s “biggest success”. Monk’s son, drummer and conductor TS Monk, likes to say it’s “the most recorded song.” It’s not, but the song’s recordings are right up there: according to Tom Lord’s Jazz Discography Index, it has been recorded 1,780 times to date! (Twenty-three of these were under the name “Round About Midnight,” including more below.) And the number will continue to grow; 280 of these recordings have been made since 2010.
The Jazzstandards.com website claims that “‘Round Midnight” is the most recorded piece written by a jazz musician, and it could be true. But it wouldn’t be the best if you included the blues, because “St. Louis Blues ”, by WC Handy, has 2,169 entries. And it’s far from the most recorded song, period – it can’t compete with something like Gershwin’s “Summertime,” which has reportedly been recorded over 30,000 times. (There is no list of these records, so we cannot verify the exact number.)
First off, what’s the name of this song? You saw it as “‘Round Midnight” and as “‘ Round About Midnight”. Miles Davis has an album of the latter name, which includes the song listed by the former. According to Wikipedia, this has led some to mistakenly add the word “About”. But it seems that “‘Round About Midnight” is do not a mistake, but rather a legitimate alternative title.
In his definitive biography of Monk, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Robin DG Kelley notes that “About” was used when the piece was registered for copyright in 1944. Monk sometimes referred to it by that name (for example, in a French interview published in 1963). And I believe, although I haven’t seen the label, that “Around” was used on a Milt Jackson recording of the play for Dee Gee (Dizzy Gillespie’s label) in 1951, six years before the album. by Davis.
Trumpeter Cootie Williams made the first recording of the song on August 22, 1944, with Monk’s good friend Bud Powell as his band’s regular pianist, and Joe Guy, who worked with Monk at Minton, on the trumpet. (Guy or Powell might have put Williams in tune; Williams had already recorded “Epistrophy” in 1942, with Guy in the band.)
Williams continued to use a short version of “‘Round Midnight” as his band’s theme, both in performance and on the radio, at least until 1947. And as Kelley explains, Williams added an off interlude. of the character, Hollywood for the first recording of the song in 1944, justifying his credit as a co-composer.
The second recording of “‘Round Midnight” to go public was made by Dizzy Gillespie in February 1946. But we now know of two early versions of the song that were previously unrecognized:
– Timme Rosenkrantz, a Danish jazz enthusiast living in New York, recorded Monk performing solo piano versions of “Round Midnight” and “These Foolish Things” in November 1944. These recordings, made in Rosenkrantz’s apartment in midtown Manhattan, can now be heard on the album Timme’s treasures, by Storyville Records.
– Coleman Hawkins made the world’s first solo saxophone recordings for the Selmer saxophone company label. The two sides of the 78 were simply titled “Hawk Variations” parts 1 and 2. The exact date is unknown, but they are generally given as “NYC, probably January 1945”. The first part is a fascinating and, I believe, “free” improvisation.
But part 2 is not a continuation of the first face; it’s a performance of “‘Round Midnight”.
Significantly, Norman Granz said that when he recorded the next solo saxophone performance, also on an unknown date but estimated to be between 1945 and 1948 (it was not released until 1949), Hawkins told him to first suggested to play “Round Midnight”. “But after a working session on it, he decided to produce a different improvisation, released as ‘Picasso’. Unfortunately, the ‘Midnight’ session does not survive. (Incidentally, Brian Priestley, pianist and one of the best jazz historians from the United Kingdom, hear “Picasso” as being based on “Prisoner of Love”.)
Meanwhile, in January 1945, Dizzy Gillespie recorded his small group arrangement of “I Can’t Get Started”. It had gained a reputation as a trumpet feature film: Bunny Berigan used it as a theme song, and Dizzy’s first idol, Roy Eldridge, recorded his own version. At the end of Dizzy’s take, around 2:35 a.m., he goes into an unexpected coda that you’ll likely recognize.
This coda was a sequence using half-diminished chords going to V sharp-nine chords, which fascinated Dizzy: in February 1944, Coleman Hawkins, with Gillespie as accompanist, recorded Dizzy’s “Woody ‘N’ You”, whose sections A are the same sequence. In Gillespie’s autobiography, To be or not to bop, he even talks about his fascination with half-diminished chords at that time.
Dizzy decided to use an extended version of this ending as the start for “‘Round Midnight” when he first recorded it with a small group in February 1946. And he introduced a long coda section at the end. .
In fact, leading his breakout years later, in 1962 and ’63, Gillespie regularly performed a medley of “I Can’t Get Started” and “Round Midnight,” specifically to highlight how his ending for the first became. the intro of the last one. The two arias come together at 2.15am in this live version of the 1962 Antibes Jazz Festival.
In July 1946, when Gillespie’s debut big band was recorded privately at the Spotlite Club in Manhattan with Monk himself on the piano, other parts of his arrangement were in place (which would have been written for the large group by the Gillespie’s friend, Gil Fuller). Immediately after Monk’s short solo at 4:16, there is a double-ended fanfare interlude from the band that remained part of the piece, and a long coda at 6:15.
Monk’s first commercial recording of “Round Midnight”, recorded for Blue Note in November 1947, uses Gillespie’s intro but nothing else from this arrangement. But in later recordings, Monk often uses both intro and coda, even in solo piano performances.
So it’s strange that we sometimes read that the 1956 version was arranged by Gil Evans. This appears to stem from a mistake on a 1973 album claiming that the 1956 version was presented to Evans and his orchestra. Evans certainly had a close relationship with Miles, but the “Round Midnight” arrangement doesn’t seem to have been one of them.
The history of the ‘Round Midnight’ arrangement is discussed in depth, with musical examples, on pages 25-28 and 81-84 by Barry Kernfeld What to listen to in jazz.
So “’Round Midnight” is truly a fascinating case study in the collaborative process behind a jazz composition. My friend Philippe Baudoin, professional pianist and one of the best jazz historians in France, tells me that the first published scores had a routine two-bar (pre-Gillespie) introduction and no coda.
Stanley Cowell gave me the 1982 sheet music for the song, and the whole Gillespie arrangement is there, even the interlude, as well as many of Monk’s vocals, including about half of the four-page sheet music – with no credit whatsoever. to Gillespie.
But that doesn’t mean that Dizzy would have expected a credit. As the musicologist José Bowen wrote in an article from 1993, for “Round Midnight” as for many jazz songs, there is no “original” or “definitive” version! (There are some errors in his descriptions of the contributions of Williams, Gillespie, and Davis, but the article is valuable for its overall point and for reproducing the various scores and recorded versions.) When I prepare to perform a piece of jazz, I always listen to as many of the composer’s recordings as possible, and where there are differences you have to make a personal decision based in part on taste.
Further, “arrangements” per se cannot be copyrighted, at least not under existing law – no matter how different a version of, say, Gil Evans or Ellington is from. the original. In addition, “intellectual property” was not as much of a concern 70 years ago as it is today. As I have shown in a previous Deep Dive, even the famous John Coltrane has appropriated parts by others. (My research suggests, however, that it was often the record company, and not the artist, that made the decision about who got the composer’s credit.)
Ultimately, “Round Midnight,” while clearly Monk’s tune, is an illustration of the genius of Monk and Gillespie – and the collaborative nature of jazz itself.
Dr Lewis Porter is the author of acclaimed books on John Coltrane, Lester Young and the history of jazz, and has taught at institutions such as Rutgers and The New School. He is also a pianist whose last album, Transcendent, is a collaboration with guitarist Ray Suhy.