10.10. – Happy Birthday !!! Since the 1950s, composer-arrangers have made orchestral versions of Thelonious Monk’s music.
I have so far heard none that have been quite so bold as John Beasley in recasting what he calls the “architecture” of these dauntingly angular piano pieces for a jazz orchestra. He lifts Monk’s melodies away from their native idiom of bebop and replants them in the musically cosmopolitan 21st century. Monk’s insistent, almost manic worrying at single phrases is replaced by sudden surprises and changes of direction. The variety of orchestral textures seems endless too. There’s a lot to take in, and a lot of conventional ideas to set aside, but through it all Monk’s themes emerge as strong as ever.
Born in Louisiana, the cradle of jazz, Beasley started writing arrangements in junior high school, the first one for the University of North Texas Jazz Band. Jimmy Lyons, founder of the Monterey Jazz Festival, heard Beasley’s piece and recommended him for a scholarship at the Stan Kenton summer jazz camp. The song was then added to The Stan Kenton Orchestra’s repertoire that year.
Beasley is a third generation musician. His father is a bassoonist, pianist, and composer. His mother was a brass instrumentalist, band conductor and orchestrator. His grandfather was a trombonist. Growing up around musicians, John learned how to play trumpet, oboe, drums, saxophone, and flute, mostly because of his mother’s need for wind instrumentalists for her bands.
Declining an oboe scholarship from the Julliard, at 17, Beasley instead started playing in clubs before he was of legal drinking age. Soon after, he went on his first world tour with Brazilian artist Sergio Mendes, then spent eight years with jazz icon Freddie Hubbard, while keeping up with his garage band Audio Mind with Vinnie Colauita, John Patittucci, and Steve Taviglione.
At the young age of 24, Beasley started writing music for Paramount, Disney, and MGM’s television shows, including Cheers, Family Ties, Star Trek, and Fame. He wrote the Touchstone TV logo, which is still used today. As a studio musician, he has worked for luminaries such as Thomas Newman, Dave Gruisin, Alan Silvestri, and Carmine Coppola. Today, he is part of Thomas Newman’s core team creating drum and synth programming for James Bond Spectre + Skyfall, He called me Malala, Get on Up: James Brown bio pic, Exotic Marigold Hotel, Finding Nemo, andWall-E, to name a few.
He writes music for Nobel Peace Prize winning Doctors Without Borders’ videos pro bono. Along the way, Beasley has written award-winning commercials for ad agencies in the US and Germany for over 20 years.
At 28, Beasley got the phone call of a lifetime from Miles Davis to join his band. While on tour with Miles, he was inspired to release his first CD, Cauldron, which was produced by Steely Dan’s Walter Becker. His Positootly! album earned a 2011 Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Record. In 2012, he joined forces with two other Miles Davis alumni, Darryl Jones (Rolling Stones bassist) and the signature drummer for Michael Jacksons Billie Jean, Ndugu Chancler to form 3 Brave Souls. This triumvirate wrote, as one reviewer said, some “tangy, ass-wiggling funk.”
Long a dream, Beasley formed a 15 piece big band called MONK’estra, capturing the spirit of Monk’s unique quirkiness, offbeat accents, punchy dissonances, in fresh arrangements of Monk’s and other classic and original compositions. Veteran jazz critic Don Heckman described Beasley’s big band and his talent as “some of the most mesmerizing big band music of recent memory …extraordinary orchestrating abilities, imaginative soloing from players.” MONK’estra has played to standing ovation at SFJazz, Walt Disney Hall, Ford Amphitheatre, Jazz Standard, LACMA. Mack Avenue has released MONK’estra Vol 1 Aug 2016 with Vol 2 due out in 2017 – Thelonious Monk’s Centennial year.