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Straight No Chaser (1951)

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“Monk’s tunes have a logic and symmetry all their own. Unlike the tunes of many composers, his are so perfectly structured and concise that they cannot withstand tampering....”

- Mark C. Gridley

Rank 163
Written by Thelonious Monk

Laurent De Wilde, in his book Monk, characterizes Monk’s music with haunting imagery: “Monk’s music can neither be classified nor assimilated. Not because it is revolutionary, which isn’t a reason in itself, but because it’s like a rock thrown into a pond which immediately sinks and disappears. You watch it going down, and you don’t know whether to keep your eye on the sinking mass, or to contemplate the concentric ripples of the tremors.”


More on Thelonious Monk at JazzBiographies.com

In his book Jazz Styles: History and Analysis, Mark C. Gridley says more specifically, “Monk’s tunes have a logic and symmetry all their own. Unlike the tunes of many composers, his are so perfectly structured and concise that they cannot withstand tampering.... Monk employed simple compositional devices with very original results. His ‘Straight, No Chaser’ involves basically only one idea played again and again, each time in a different part of the measure and with a different ending. The shifting accents reflect a craftsmanship which can produce depth in simplicity. The melody is an ingenious invention set atop the twelve-bar blues chord progression.”

Monk first recorded “Straight, No Chaser” on July 23, 1951, with a quintet featuring Sahib Shihab on alto sax, Milt Jackson on vibes, Al McKibbon on bass, and Art Blakey on drums. Thomas Owens in his book Bebop: The Music and Its Players says, “But for all their formal simplicity, Monk’s meticulously crafted pieces typically contain one or more surprises for the unwary player. In the blues ‘Straight, No Chaser,’ the surprise is the evolving nature of the main motive; at first it is a five-note motive starting just before beat 1, then it is a seven-note motive starting just before beat 4, elsewhere it is a four-note motive, and so on.”

Gary Giddins in his book Visions of Jazz: The First Century says, “Columbia has also posthumously released unedited editions of albums formerly issued with excised or abridged solos....The CD version of ‘Straight No Chaser’ is more involving than the original, not least because [Charlie] Rouse’s restored solos now make sense (he was in top form at that session).” The recording was made in June, 1959, and the quintet included Thad Jones on cornet, Sam Jones on bass, and Art Taylor on drums.

For her 1990 release Carmen Sings Monk, vocalist Carmen McRae recorded “Straight, No Chaser” and renamed “Get It Straight” with lyrics by Sally Swisher. Vocalist/pianist Karrin Allyson also recorded it as part of a Monk medley which included “Blue Monk” (retitled “Monkery’s The Blues” with lyrics by Abbey Lincoln) and “You Know Who/I Mean You” with lyrics by Jon Hendricks.

Swisher’s lyrics describe Monk’s tenacity in regard to his music:

You gotta be on
You gotta be strong
The time is here
So trust your life to your ear
Don’t wait for no one

In Stuart Troup’s liner notes to the McRae album he explains the title changes: “The reason for these title changes is simply insistence by the music publishers, since the instrumental versions have become part of a separate Monk literature.”

Miles Davis’ 1958 sextet recording Milestones, featuring Cannonball Adderley, contains a marvelous version of “Straight, No Chaser” which went a long way in establishing recognition for the Monk composition, also recorded by Oscar Peterson, Chet Baker, Bill Evans, and Gil Evans. The composition remains a favorite among contemporary musicians. It’s been recorded by pianists Jessica Williams, Kenny Drew, Jr., Chick Corea, and Eddie Higgins; guitarists Charlie Byrd and Larry Coryell; saxophonists Bud Shank and Bennie Wallace; and Bob Florence Limited Edition.

Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser is the title of a 1988 film biography of Monk which combines concert and off-stage footage by Christian Blackwood taken in 1967-68, interviews with family and friends, and archive footage of Monk’s contemporaries.

- Sandra Burlingame

Recommendations for This Tune
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Thelonious Monk
Genius of Modern Music 2
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1951

The stunning original recording of “Straight No Chaser” begins with a great drum chorus by Art Blakey. After stating the then-groundbreaking melody, Monk plays a spiky, energetic solo before giving way to solos by saxophonist Sahib Shihab and vibraphonist Milt Jackson.

Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan
Mulligan Meets Monk
Original recording 1957

This is the second recording of tune, and it is fabulous. Monk is at times remarkably edgy, while at other times he drops out altogether. Mulligan is melodic and interactive on baritone saxophone and the rhythm section of bassist Wilbur Ware and drummer Shadow Wilson is one of the finest in Monk’s history.

Quincy Jones
Quintessence (Reis) (Rstr) (Dig)
Original recording 1961

This performance of “Straight No Chaser” is fast and the arrangement is rich and clever. The focal point is the authoritative trombone of featured soloist Curtis Fuller.

Thelonious Monk
Straight No Chaser
Original recording 1967

“Straight No Chaser” is taken at a faster tempo here than on earlier Monk recordings, and his quartet just eats it up. There are extended solos for Monk (who is particularly playful here), saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben Riley.

Joe Henderson, Wynton Kelly
Straight No Chaser
Polygram Records
Original Recording 1968

Tenor saxophonist Henderson is both modern and tradition-rooted on this performance, demonstrating the burgeoning popularity of the song as a vehicle for forward-thinking improvisation. His solo is brilliant, and there is some great work by the supporting cast of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb.

Carmen Mcrae
Carmen Sings Monk: First Edt (Dig)
Original recording 1990

McRae is arguably the most authoritative vocalist of the bop movement, and her album of Monk tunes is a late-career gem. She offers two versions of “Get it Straight” here, both featuring the bass of George Mraz and the drums of Al Foster. The live version features a saxophone solo by longtime Monk associate Charlie Rouse, while the studio version features Clifford Jordan in the same role.


- Noah Baerman

Paul Motian
Monk in Motian
Winter & Winter

Drummer Motian leads a stellar group of top improvisers (including the double threat of tenor sax men Joe Lovano and Dewey Redman) through a refreshingly complex and ultimately satisfying reading of the song.
Andy Bey
Shades of Bey
1998 Evidence 22215
Original recording 1998
The rich, hypnotic warmth and dexterity of Bey’s voice is readily apparent as he applies both scat and vocalese impressions to the Monk blueprint.
Elvin Jones Jazz Machine
The Truth
2004 Half Note Records 4519
Original recording 1999
Flashy brass and a driving tempo define this live performance led by drummer Jones and featuring sweet solo slides from trombonist Robin Eubanks.
Kenny Barron
Green Chimneys
1994 Criss Cross 1008
Original recording 1983
Pianist Barron’ masterful touch is matched by bassist Buster Williams and drummer Ben Riley on this feather-light but up-tempo reading.

- Ben Maycock

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