Thelonious Monk was already a legend in 1953, when the first of these recordings were made. He had only been on the scene for a few years, but his unique perspectives both onstage and off kept people guessing all the time. This was a trait that persisted throughout his career.
The seven tracks that comprise Monk are actually the results of two separate sessions, with two different quintets. The first occurred November 13, 1953, and the quintet consisted of: Willie Jones (drums), Percy Heath (bass), Julius Watkins (French horn), Sonny Rollins (tenor sax), and Thelonious Monk himself (piano).
Legend has it that Monk and Rollins shared a cab on the way in to the studio, and the taxi was involved in a minor collision, making them very late for the session. A number titled “Friday The 13th” was recorded to mark the event, but due to time constraints of the LP format back then, it was held back for later release.
The three tunes that were released as side two of Monk were “Let’s Call This,” and two versions of “Think Of One.”
“Let’s Call This” contains some outstanding solos from Watkins, Rollins, and Monk. But what I find most striking are the sax and French horn combinations that open and close the cut. The sound of those two instruments played in tandem is definitely different.
I agree with critic Ira Gitler’s assessment in the liner notes that of the two versions of “Think Of One,” the first contains the better soloing. However, both takes are worth listening to, for the differences alone if nothing else.
Side one of the original LP was recorded May 11, 1954 by Rudy Van Gelder in his studio in Hackensack, NJ. Except for Monk himself, this is a completely different quintet and features: Curly Russell (bass), Ray Copeland (trumpet), Frank Foster (tenor sax), and Art Blakey (drums).