Live Review: John Beasley & Monk'estra

Zipper Hall  Los Angeles, CA

Contact: Lorna Chiu, [email protected]

Web: johnbeasleymusic.com

Players: John Beasley, conductor-arranger-piano; Brian Swartz, Kye Palmer, Brandyn Phillips, Barbara Laronga, trumpets; Lasim Richards, Wendell Kelly, Ryan Dragon, Lemar Guillary, trombones; Bob Sheppard, Danny Janklow, Tom Luer, Kirsten Edkins, Tom Peterson, woodwinds; Reuben Rogers, bass; Terreon Gully, drums

Material: Introduced by incomparable jazz patron and founder of host Jazz Bakery, nonagenarian Ruth Price, John Beasley and the MONK’estra band shared their jazz stylings for over 90 minutes. In celebration of Beasley’s birthday, the anniversary of the birth of Thelonius Monk, and MONK’estra’s tenth anniversary, the group performed a collection of Monk arrangements, a Charlie Parker cover, and a handful of originals, enthralling the packed room of enthusiasts with their tight big band sound.

Musicianship: “I Mean You” opened with Beasley on the grand piano alongside a growling tenor sax solo, followed by synthesized keys on “Locomotive,” adding on a warm saxophone solo, great drum tempo pull, and overall moodiness. Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” (Beasley’s arrangement won 2021’s Best Arrangement, Instrumental GRAMMY) added more sax section magic, intermittent tight band shots, great upright bass saunter, and fabulous stylistic transitions—in particular from the trumpet section. “Ruby, My Dear” included guest musician Ralph Moore in a beautiful sax solo, and closely harmonized trombone layering and slide sections.

Performance: A medley of “Let Them All Talk” (from Steven Soderbergh’s film, composed by Thomas Newman and arranged and orchestrated by Beasley) brought a gorgeous sway and suspenseful feel, delicious walking bass line underpinning, and a muted trumpet sound, for a blend that presented the epitome of musical escapism.     

Monk’s “Oska T” revealed a stunning bass/drumkit/piano section, soprano sax solo, fantastic drum fills and band shots for a true Old Hollywood sound. The stage was a who’s who of jazz players from around the Los Angeles area, and the evening included guest heavyweights Ralph Moore, Theo Croker and Greg Phillinganes.

Summary: The “Rhythm-A-Ning/Evidence” mashup shared an intense drum solo and two tenor saxes trading eight, then four, then two bar solos. Between interspersed solo embellishments, instrumental growling, punchy horn shots, and dreamy soprano sax interludes, juxtaposed with full band syncopation, spontaneous on-stage cameos, and audience finger-snapping, Beasley and MONK’estra delivered a delicious combination of polished sound and improvised celebration.

Photo by Bob Barry