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Green Chimneys: A Critical Analysis of Covers

Ben Gray
Contributing Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

After looking at an early Monk composition, ”Shuffle Boil,” and more recently at Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay,” I’ll look at another color-themed song from Monk this time around, Thelonious Monk’s “Green Chimneys” from later in his career. This tune was first recorded for the Straight, No Chaser sessions in 1967, though that take was only included on re-issues of the album. Monk included “Green Chimneys” on his Underground album in 1968, and it has received the cover treatment quite a few times since.

On Straight, No Chaser reissues, “Green Chimneys” shows up in a form that Monk apparently didn’t want included, but that Orrin Keepnews’ reissue liner notes describe by saying “there doesn’t appear to be anything specifically wrong with the one complete take of it that the quartet had made that day.” I’d agree; to my ears this stands up well with the rest of the material on the excellent album. This version starts with Monk playing the “Green Chimneys” theme solo, and somewhat tentatively (as compared with the Underground version below). Monk is joined by Larry Gales on bass and then plays the theme very high up on the piano before Ben Riley’s drums and Charlie Rouse’s sax join Monk and Gales at about 0:25. Rouse’s sax solo starts at about 1:10 or 1:15 with stabbing piano chords from Monk to accompany. Rouse sounds nice and relaxed in here and uses some of the same phrasing that would show up in the Underground version. I like the lick he plays here around 1:50. Monk’s comping is really insistent throughout, these big staccato chords; Rouse isn’t phased in the least and the two of them fill the spaces something lovely. Monk’s solo starts around 2:50. His left hand is still dropping some big chords periodically… this solo is really something, classic Monk melodicism. Gales’ walking bassline sounds great, particularly when Monk’s solo gets pretty sparse starting around 3:45 or so. Some of the chords Monk plays here sound really wild… Rouse comes back around 4:30 for the song’s theme, played fairly loosely with nice interaction between Rouse and Monk before the head returns around 5:30 or so to take the song out. I really like the tentative feel at the opening of this version, it seems that the group is still figuring out how to take the tune. Monk’s solo is great and his emphatic comping behind Rouse’s solo is interesting. Rouse sounds great on this tune.

“Green Chimneys” showed up on its first release on Monk’s 1968 Underground album, as mentioned above, with the same personnel as on Straight, No Chaser. In this version, Monk again starts the tune solo, though less hesitant I think here. The high notes are less extreme in this version, too.

Gales and Riley join at about 0:10, here with a nice walking bassline from Gales (also sounding less hesitant here than on Straight, No Chaser). Rouse’s sax jumps into the mix at about 0:20 or 0:25. Interesting… small changes from the version on Straight, No Chaser, but they have a big change on the overall feel of the introduction to the tune. Rouse takes the first solo starting at 1:05 or so… as good as he sounded on the previous version, Rouse sounds great on this version of the tune. Very relaxed and in the pocket. Monk’s comping is less aggressive than on the Straight, No Chaser version, and he even drops out periodically, leaving Rouse plenty of room to work, though he drops some big, harsh chords around 2:10. Rouse’s solo is based on a lot of low-register notes, as close to funk as I’ve heard on a Monk original. I love how Monk plays with the “Green Chimneys” theme around 3:25 behind Rouse. Around 4:00, Monk drops out and Rouse, Gales, and Riley are an excellent sax trio through this section. Rouse really hits on a nice lick around 4:45 that he builds on (the beginning of the solo also plays with this lick a bit), leading to some extreme low notes around 5:15 or 5:20. Monk’s solo starts around 5:25, building from Rouse’s sax lick and playing with the “Green Chimneys” theme starting around 5:55. Every time I hear a Monk solo, I’m amazed at how many different ways he can take the song’s theme and subtly re-shape it to make something new… around 7:00, Monk’s solo gets sparse, as on his solo on the previous version. A deep piano note at 7:30 leads to Gales’ melodic bass solo that keeps the walking bass feel throughout, although he doesn’t play a straight walking bassline here. Great descending line around 8:40… Riley gets in a nice drum solo starting around 10:15. The band rejoins Riley at about 11:30 and the head returns around 12:20. As good as the version of “Green Chimneys” on Straight, No Chaser is, the composition seems to have tightened up a bit, and Rouse in particular really shines on this version. Gales and Riley are in great form throughout, too. Kevin Sun has taken a look at Rouse and Monk’s solos on this tune, and transcriptions of Rouse’s sax solo and Monk’s piano solo are up on his blog, A Horizontal Search.

In 1988, Charlie Rouse recorded an album with Sahib Shihab called Soul Mates where he revisited “Green Chimneys.” Rouse and Shihab were joined by Claudio Roditi on trumpet, Walter Davis Jr. on piano, Santi Debriano on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums. This version opens with the saxes playing the bass notes and trumpet playing the upper notes that Monk had played in his solo piano intros above. After the horns state the theme, the drums, bass, and piano come in around 0:10 before the horns rejoin around 0:20. Cool arrangement of the introduction. The first sax solo starts around 1:05… I can’t be absolutely certain who this is, but it sure sounds like Rouse based on the licks he plays and the similarity to the ones from Underground. Interesting horn accompaniments to the solo start around 1:45, in addition to the relatively spare piano comping from Davis. The horn accompaniments are clearly derived from the piano lines Monk played behind Rouse on Underground... this is really nice arranging:

Underground, then Soul Mates:

A piano solo starts around 3:00, with Davis taking a Monk-like approach to this tune at first. The horns come back in around 4:00 over Davis’ piano chords and the head returns around 4:20 without the piano. A really nice arrangement of the song. The highlight for me is probably the way Monk’s piano lines were arranged for piano, sax, and trumpet behind Rouse’s solo here.

Whenever Monk covers come up on piano, Jessica Williams and Kenny Barron are likely candidates (see my earlier essay on ”Shuffle Boil”). Williams covered “Green Chimneys” on her Jazz in the Afternoon album from 2000, joined by Dave Captein on bass and Mel Brown on drums. She opens the tune solo at a pretty fast tempo. Her left hand is noticeably different from Monk’s in this arrangement, a subtle change that affects the overall sound. Williams’ solo starts around 0:50 with a very Monk-ish line before she really digs in. Excellent stuff starting around 1:20 or so; Williams has a way of playing Monk with her own style while taking a Monk influence that really works for me. There’s a crazy piano line around 3:30-3:40 and Brown responds on the drums. She comes back to play with the “Green Chimneys” theme around 4:20, playing it loosely and breaking up some of the chords something like Monk’s approach to the tune. As on Monk’s version on Straight, No Chaser, Williams’ solo becomes sparse toward the end, leaving room for Captein’s walking bassline to shine without the piano ever dropping out. The head returns around 5:50. Wow… this version’s faster tempo and the way Williams takes on the tune makes for some intense listening. Great piano trio version of “Green Chimneys”. (Another version of “Green Chimneys” by Jessica Williams is on her Intuition album.)

Kenny Barron’s version of “Green Chimneys” is on his 1983 album entitled, appropriately enough, Green Chimneys. Barron is joined by Buster Williams on bass and Ben Riley (the drummer on Straight, No Chaser and Underground) on drums. Barron’s version of the tune starts at a fairly good tempo and a somewhat dark feel, I think from Williams’ bass. Barron’s solo starts at about 0:40 after playing through the head. He doesn’t play this in a Monk-ish style, giving it his own stamp… nice fractured take on the theme around 1:15. I really like Williams’ bass tone on this, sort of rubbery, though it’s not a classic acoustic bass tone. Riley’s drums are pushing more on this, I think, than on the versions of “Green Chimneys” led by Monk himself. This is a great Kenny Barron piano solo… Williams gets a bass solo starting around 3:20 over Riley’s light hi-hat and spare comping from Barron. He sounds great on this solo, and the trio comes back around 4:40, leaving spaces for Riley’s drum fills. The head returns around 5:50 after a Riley fill and they play this through to the end of the tune. Barron doesn’t try to do a Monk impersonation on this, and he does well not to - the trio sounds great on this.

Wynton Marsalis (wait… if you just had a visceral negative reaction to his name, go read Ethan Iverson’s interview with Marsalis on Do The Math, then come back here and maybe you’ll be in a better mood for this) included “Green Chimneys” on his 2005 Live at the House of Tribes album (it’s a 2002 performance released in 2005) with Wessell Anderson on sax, Eric Lewis (of ELEW fame) on piano, Kengo Nakamura on bass, Joe Farnsworth on drums, and Orlando Rodriquez on percussion. This version starts with Marsalis stating the theme on trumpet unaccompanied before the drums and then the piano, then bass, join in. The band sounds tight over a march-like rhythm, quite different from earlier versions. At about 0:40, all but the bass drops out for Marsalis’ trumpet solo… there is something happening here, this could go on and on… Marsalis sounds so damned good on his horn. The drums add a couple of hits here and there, but don’t come back in until Marsalis has played with the “Green Chimneys” theme pretty thoroughly and teased a bit of the riffing that Charlie Rouse played on the Underground version. The full band re-joins around 2:30 as Marsalis’ solo continues, still riffing on Rouse’s lick. Around 3:10 or so, Marsalis is playing some great upper-register stuff, hitting the high notes. By about 4:00, the band is in a great groove, with everyone playing some amazing stuff. Nice tension and release around 4:50… Lewis’ comping around 5:20 is great, just before Anderson’s sax solo starts around 5:30 or so, some really tense-sounding stuff, leading to a release around 6:10 and the band barrels forward, everyone pushing on this tune. Great descending sax lines around 7:20 over the rolling drums and percussion… Around 8:00 it’s back to some tense-sounding sax lines, reminiscent of the start of this solo. Lewis’ piano solo starts around 9:00 in a fairly low register, playing melodic improvised lines with his left hand… this leads to some really great chordal stuff around 10:00 or so. Jittery playing around 10:20, just great, great soloing in here, the band sounds like they’re having a lot of fun… Dense chords around 11:30 leading to a cool variation on the “Green Chimneys” theme around 11:45… The head returns just before 12:00. I love the piano line behind the horns around 12:20. Starting around 12:40, Marsalis’ trumpet takes the lead again for a coda. Minimal piano comping and a bass pulse over march-like drums, this is great improvisation here. A great version of this tune, the whole band is playing their asses off and having a great time.

Eric Reed included “Green Chimneys” on his 2011 album The Baddest Monk. Reed on piano is joined by Matt Clohesy on bass and Henry Cole on drums. After an introduction that shows no outward signs of belonging to “Green Chimneys,” the song’s theme shows up at about 0:40. It’s clear from the outset that this group isn’t interested in a straightforward homage to Monk - this is their tune. Even the head is taken apart and replayed according to the group’s whims. Reed’s piano solo after the head is great, high-energy playing with Cole’s drums pushing forward… Wow… interesting Latin feel around 1:45 and the momentum really picks up around 2:00 courtesy of Cole’s snare. Reed’s piano solo is incredible, fast right-hand runs and big chords throughout keeping it interesting. Starting at about 4:20, Cole gets some openings for his drums fills… The head returns around 5:25, with the group again taking it pretty loosely. Just before 6:00, Reed plays some relatively straightforward blues licks, then the group takes it out. A very different take on “Green Chimneys,” Reed’s solo reminds me somewhat of Kenny Barron’s, but the overall feel of this version seems a bit looser.

Green Chimneys by Eric Reed on Grooveshark

This column could go on… there are lots more great versions of “Green Chimneys” out there. John Stech’s version on Exponentially Monk, Charles Lloyd’s version on Acoustic Masters I, Roy Haynes’ version on Fountain of Youth, and Jonathan Batiste’s version at the Kennedy Center, to name a few, are worth your ears. Keep listening.

Ben Gray is a listener with a lot of ideas about this music around in his head.