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'Round Midnight (1944)

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“... this CD reissue features a wonderful glimpse into Monk’s process with over twenty minutes of false starts that preceded the full version.”

- Noah Baerman

AKA'Round About Midnight
AKAAround Midnight
Rank 4
Music Cootie Williams
Thelonious Monk
Lyrics Bernie Hanighen

“‘Round Midnight” is Thelonious Monk’s best-known jazz composition and carries the grand distinction of being the most-recorded jazz standard written by any jazz musician. The Monk CD, Best of the Blue Note Years documents the 1947 group recording of “‘Round Midnight” (1991, Blue Note 95636). A solo version from 1957 is available on Thelonious Himself (1991, Orig. Jazz Classics 254).


More on Thelonious Monk at JazzBiographies.com

More on Cootie Williams at JazzBiographies.com

According to Thomas Fitterling in Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music, Monk wrote “‘Round Midnight” when he was just 18. Eight years later, in 1944, at jazz pianist Bud Powell’s urging, Cootie Williams and His Orchestra recorded the song. Depending on whose version of history you believe, Williams modified the composition either very slightly or not at all. In any case, he shares credit for it in terms of copyright. Originally titled “’Round About Midnight,” Monk’s composition became the theme song for Williams’ Orchestra. Jackie Paris introduced it as a vocal in 1949, after Bernie Hanighen added the lyrics.


More on Bernie Hanighen at JazzBiographies.com

Notes on www.monkzone.com state that “in 1946, Dizzy Gillespie added his famous introduction and cadenza for his big band arrangement, which proved so popular that Monk added it (albeit an altered version) to his own performance... It is now a standard part of the song. Monk first recorded it as a leader on November 21, 1947.”

A major turning point for “’Round Midnight,” for Miles Davis, and also for the world of jazz was Davis’ show-stopping performance of the song at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival. This was considered a sort of comeback for Davis, resulting in a contract with Columbia Records and the release of one of the definitive recordings of “‘Round Midnight” on his 1956 ‘Round About Midnight LP with John Coltrane (ts), Red Garland (p), Paul Chambers (b), and Philly Joe Jones (d). The original session is available on Davis’ ‘Round About Midnight (2001, Sony).

Davis’ performance at Newport and his subsequent recording played a large part in introducing this song to the jazz public at large. One critic has called it the “National Anthem of Jazz.”

“’Round Midnight” is best characterized as a “darkly beautiful” ballad with an “after-hours” feel that manages to sound fresh and original decade after decade. Its haunting overtones are nearly tangible. Bernie Hanighen wrote the poignant lyrics about a rocky love affair and the resulting sadness,

“I’m feelin’ sad ...my heart is still with you”

and longing,

“Let our hearts take wings ...Let the angels sing...”

‘Round Midnight is also the title of a critically acclaimed film starring Dexter Gordon (1923-1990) as Dale Turner. Turner is a composite character loosely based around the lives of Bud Powell (1924-1966), Lester Young (1909-1959), and even a little bit of Gordon himself. In the film, Turner is a brilliant but troubled tenor saxophone player in the 1950’s who spends his last eight years in Paris.

‘Round Midnight won both the British and Academy Awards for Best Score by Herbie Hancock. Hancock also appeared in the film along with musicians Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter. A CD of the film’s soundtrack is available and quite good. Gordon received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in the film. It is not a direct adaptation of the book, Dance of the Infidels: A Portrait of Bud Powell; however, a fictionalized version of the relationship between Bud Powell and the book’s author, Francis Paudras, is portrayed in the film.

More information on this tune...

Lewis Porter
John Coltrane: His Life and Music (The Michigan American Music Series)
University of Michigan Press

(One page on recording history.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

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