Arts

When jazz royalty came to Paly: Monk's long-lost record (nearly) goes public

Release of live album from Thelonious Monk's 1968 Palo Alto High School concert, set for July 31, now on hold

The cover art for Monk's "Palo Alto" live album, recorded live at Palo Alto High School in 1968. Courtesy Impulse! Records.

San Francisco and Hackensack, New Jersey, are two locations immortalized by the late jazz pianist/composer/innovator Thelonious Monk. Palo Alto could have joined that elite list with the release of Monk's live "Palo Alto" album, which was originally supposed to come out Friday, July 31, on Impulse! Records. Unfortunately for jazz fans, a dispute between Monk's previous label and his estate has left the release indefinitely delayed as of this week.

The source of the recording is a concert produced by Palo Alto native Danny Scher back in 1968. The music, performed by the working quartet of Monk, tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, double bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben Riley, is magical.

"They were on the road for years, and they were just a great band," said Zev Feldman, a co-producer of the album.

The show itself lasted -- or at least the bootleg of it -- lasted for a little around 47 minutes. Judging from the recording, the musicians on the bandstand had as good of a time as that afternoon’s audibly enthusiastic patrons. Monk had a reputation for sometime being either aloof or playful in concert, and he can be sounds as if he was in the latter mood on originals-turned-standards "Ruby, My Dear," "Well, You Needn’t," "Epistrophy" and a 14 minute version of the extra popular "Blue Monk."

The backstory for both the live event — and the subsequent album — is both charming and inspirational.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

Now a music industry veteran of renown, at the time of the Monk concert, Scher was 16 and an ambitious Palo Alto High School student who had already presented performances at his school by pianist/composer Vince Guaraldi ("Linus & Lucy") and vocalist Jon Hendricks (ex-Lambert, Hendricks & Ross) as well as vibraphonist/bandleader Cal Tjader.

Scher already had two de facto mentors at the time: the late Herb Wong, jazz scholar/educator/producer and a longtime Menlo Park resident, and Darlene Chan, founder and inaugural director of the Berkeley Jazz Festival.

"And I said to one of them, 'You know, my two idols are Monk and Duke (Ellington)," Scher recalled, by phone from his home in the East Bay. "And they said, 'Why don't you call Monk? He's coming to town.'" (Scher would present Ellington in concert in collaboration with the California Youth Symphony, in which he was the principal timpanist and percussionist, soon after.)

Scher contacted Jules Colomby, Monk's manager, and secured a contract for an afternoon concert at Palo Alto High School while the bandleader was in San Francisco for a run at the Jazz Workshop club in North Beach. He enlisted the services of his older brother Les, whose love of jazz was his own gateway to the American art form, to serve as the band's driver.

"The ticket price was $2 for general admission and $1.50 for students. And even then, that was really cheap," Scher said. Worried about having an empty house — or, in his case, school auditorium — he knew he had to diversify his offerings.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

He created a concert program and sold advertising slots to local businesses such as Dana Morgan's Music Store, the local travel agency his parents patronized, and the florist from whom he'd buy flowers for his mother's birthday.

"So if no one shows up, at least there's enough money to pay Monk," he explained.

(A physical copy of the program is was set to be included in the CD and vinyl versions of the release, and its cover was is also featured on a mug in the online Monk Store.)

The forward-thinking upperclassman also reckoned it would be wise to expand his potential audience beyond the city limits.

"I get posters made by the high-school graphics arts department, and I'm putting them up in East Palo Alto. And the police are telling me, 'Hey, kid! You better get out of here. It's not safe for you,'" he recalled. "This is a few months after Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy got shot, and there was a lot of tension between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto," he continued. "And I told them, 'You know what? I'm going to be in bigger trouble if the show doesn't do well.'"

Some potential audience members were skeptical that Monk would actually show up to play at a high school not known for its diverse student body. So Scher told them to just come to campus and buy a ticket when they saw Monk enter the venue. As Les Scher drove into the Paly parking lot with the top of Larry Gales' contrabass sticking out of a rear window, "everyone who was waiting lines up and buys their ticket, and the show is great,'' Scher said

One of the school's janitors offered to record the concert in exchange for the honor of tuning the piano Monk would be playing. Scher has held onto the cassette tape, which he got digitized at the now-closed Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, and had been negotiating with T.S. Monk, Thelonious' son and the manager of his father's estate, about its release. They came to an agreement on Monk's Centenary in 2017 — 10 days before the 49th anniversary of the concert.

Jazz great Thelonious Monk played an unlikely concert at Palo Alto High School in 1968.

With his concert-promoting instincts already honed in his mid-teens, Scher would go on to rise to the rank of vice president at Bill Graham Presents. In addition to developing and launching the Shoreline Amphitheatre, he also created and produced the New Orleans by the Bay festival at that Mountain View venue before retiring in 1999 after 24 years with BGP and would go on to become co-founder of DanSun Productions.

"I've produced thousands of concerts," Scher mused. Who would've thought something I did 52 years ago, when I was in high school, would get this much publicity? … But I suppose it's nice to have a feel-good story, especially given the times."

But the fairytale ending has been suspended — for now, at least.

"I received word that there was a dispute between the estate and Monk's previous label," Scher said during a phone conversation on Monday, July 27. So the release has been taken off of the schedule indefinitely "due to circumstances beyond the label's control," according to a statement by Impulse! Records. Co-producer Feldman was unable to provide any further information at this time.

"They're not saying it's delayed. They're saying we'll let you know if it's being released, not when," Scher said. "I've held onto this recording for 50 years. So I can hold onto it for another two or three decades."

Freelance writer Yoshi Kato can be emailed at [email protected]

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

When jazz royalty came to Paly: Monk's long-lost record (nearly) goes public

Release of live album from Thelonious Monk's 1968 Palo Alto High School concert, set for July 31, now on hold

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Jul 28, 2020, 4:49 pm
Updated: Thu, Jul 30, 2020, 9:25 pm

San Francisco and Hackensack, New Jersey, are two locations immortalized by the late jazz pianist/composer/innovator Thelonious Monk. Palo Alto could have joined that elite list with the release of Monk's live "Palo Alto" album, which was originally supposed to come out Friday, July 31, on Impulse! Records. Unfortunately for jazz fans, a dispute between Monk's previous label and his estate has left the release indefinitely delayed as of this week.

The source of the recording is a concert produced by Palo Alto native Danny Scher back in 1968. The music, performed by the working quartet of Monk, tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, double bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben Riley, is magical.

"They were on the road for years, and they were just a great band," said Zev Feldman, a co-producer of the album.

The show itself lasted -- or at least the bootleg of it -- lasted for a little around 47 minutes. Judging from the recording, the musicians on the bandstand had as good of a time as that afternoon’s audibly enthusiastic patrons. Monk had a reputation for sometime being either aloof or playful in concert, and he can be sounds as if he was in the latter mood on originals-turned-standards "Ruby, My Dear," "Well, You Needn’t," "Epistrophy" and a 14 minute version of the extra popular "Blue Monk."

The backstory for both the live event — and the subsequent album — is both charming and inspirational.

Now a music industry veteran of renown, at the time of the Monk concert, Scher was 16 and an ambitious Palo Alto High School student who had already presented performances at his school by pianist/composer Vince Guaraldi ("Linus & Lucy") and vocalist Jon Hendricks (ex-Lambert, Hendricks & Ross) as well as vibraphonist/bandleader Cal Tjader.

Scher already had two de facto mentors at the time: the late Herb Wong, jazz scholar/educator/producer and a longtime Menlo Park resident, and Darlene Chan, founder and inaugural director of the Berkeley Jazz Festival.

"And I said to one of them, 'You know, my two idols are Monk and Duke (Ellington)," Scher recalled, by phone from his home in the East Bay. "And they said, 'Why don't you call Monk? He's coming to town.'" (Scher would present Ellington in concert in collaboration with the California Youth Symphony, in which he was the principal timpanist and percussionist, soon after.)

Scher contacted Jules Colomby, Monk's manager, and secured a contract for an afternoon concert at Palo Alto High School while the bandleader was in San Francisco for a run at the Jazz Workshop club in North Beach. He enlisted the services of his older brother Les, whose love of jazz was his own gateway to the American art form, to serve as the band's driver.

"The ticket price was $2 for general admission and $1.50 for students. And even then, that was really cheap," Scher said. Worried about having an empty house — or, in his case, school auditorium — he knew he had to diversify his offerings.

He created a concert program and sold advertising slots to local businesses such as Dana Morgan's Music Store, the local travel agency his parents patronized, and the florist from whom he'd buy flowers for his mother's birthday.

"So if no one shows up, at least there's enough money to pay Monk," he explained.

(A physical copy of the program is was set to be included in the CD and vinyl versions of the release, and its cover was is also featured on a mug in the online Monk Store.)

The forward-thinking upperclassman also reckoned it would be wise to expand his potential audience beyond the city limits.

"I get posters made by the high-school graphics arts department, and I'm putting them up in East Palo Alto. And the police are telling me, 'Hey, kid! You better get out of here. It's not safe for you,'" he recalled. "This is a few months after Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy got shot, and there was a lot of tension between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto," he continued. "And I told them, 'You know what? I'm going to be in bigger trouble if the show doesn't do well.'"

Some potential audience members were skeptical that Monk would actually show up to play at a high school not known for its diverse student body. So Scher told them to just come to campus and buy a ticket when they saw Monk enter the venue. As Les Scher drove into the Paly parking lot with the top of Larry Gales' contrabass sticking out of a rear window, "everyone who was waiting lines up and buys their ticket, and the show is great,'' Scher said

One of the school's janitors offered to record the concert in exchange for the honor of tuning the piano Monk would be playing. Scher has held onto the cassette tape, which he got digitized at the now-closed Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, and had been negotiating with T.S. Monk, Thelonious' son and the manager of his father's estate, about its release. They came to an agreement on Monk's Centenary in 2017 — 10 days before the 49th anniversary of the concert.

With his concert-promoting instincts already honed in his mid-teens, Scher would go on to rise to the rank of vice president at Bill Graham Presents. In addition to developing and launching the Shoreline Amphitheatre, he also created and produced the New Orleans by the Bay festival at that Mountain View venue before retiring in 1999 after 24 years with BGP and would go on to become co-founder of DanSun Productions.

"I've produced thousands of concerts," Scher mused. Who would've thought something I did 52 years ago, when I was in high school, would get this much publicity? … But I suppose it's nice to have a feel-good story, especially given the times."

But the fairytale ending has been suspended — for now, at least.

"I received word that there was a dispute between the estate and Monk's previous label," Scher said during a phone conversation on Monday, July 27. So the release has been taken off of the schedule indefinitely "due to circumstances beyond the label's control," according to a statement by Impulse! Records. Co-producer Feldman was unable to provide any further information at this time.

"They're not saying it's delayed. They're saying we'll let you know if it's being released, not when," Scher said. "I've held onto this recording for 50 years. So I can hold onto it for another two or three decades."

Freelance writer Yoshi Kato can be emailed at [email protected]

Comments

Mark Weiss
Downtown North
on Jul 29, 2020 at 1:01 am
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
on Jul 29, 2020 at 1:01 am
Like this comment

I'm doubling down on my suspicious belief that the janitor who recorded the show was actually a Fed, part of COINTELPRO, and now the deep state doesn't want this to help Black Lives Matter and have put the kibosh.
Other than that, how was the show, Dan?
I guess this answers the question, "Kenneth, what's the frequency?" - the answer is maybe every fifty years, maybe 70.
And they killed Eddie Gale, my Miss Acker.


Shashank Joshi
Midtown
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:16 pm
Shashank Joshi, Midtown
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:16 pm
Like this comment

Danny Scher is simply a cultural phenomenon. He should be celebrated for his original thinking and vision as a Paly sophomore in the 50’s, and appreciated for keeping his dream alive so the rest of us Monk fans can savor that concert forever. I’m getting ready to buy it on both vinyl and CD when it’s out !


Hmmm
East Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:19 pm
Hmmm, East Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:19 pm
Like this comment

Questions:

1 - How hard could it be for PAUSD to dig into old records and find out the name of the black janitor who recorded the concert?

2 - I’ve heard various stories about the role East Palo Alto played in this concert. Was it really a fundraiser for political activity here? Did Paly’s International Club interact with students in East Palo Alto? Was the janitor a resident here?


Novelera
Midtown
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:26 pm
Novelera, Midtown
on Jul 30, 2020 at 5:26 pm
Like this comment

Wow! I hope the details can be worked out with the Monk estate. Fabulous! I never had the privilege of seeing Monk live, but I treasure his music. One time I was in Italy at a club which had a piano bar. The guy took requests. Never expecting he'd know it, I asked for 'Round Midnight, and he played it right away with a big smile on his face.


Julian Gómez
Midtown
on Jul 30, 2020 at 6:44 pm
Julian Gómez, Midtown
on Jul 30, 2020 at 6:44 pm
Like this comment

How do you know the janitor was black? It doesn't say any such thing in the story. And it is not the case that all grade schools have black janitors, mine didn't.


music heals
another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 6:44 am
music heals, another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 6:44 am
Like this comment

Hope this music is released sooner rather than later so no Monk fans will miss out on hearing this especially since the article says he was in a playful mood! Would be very uplifting music in these heartbreaking times! Much love and take care everyone...rest in peace, power and love Mr. Monk and the kindhearted gentleman who recorded this....


music heals
another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 10:32 am
music heals, another community
on Jul 31, 2020 at 10:32 am
Like this comment

Please support by preordering/purchasing from an independently owned business...especially black owned/BIPOC owned and please vote blue for potus in the general election (by mail/absentee or in person) in November or early voting in October! Love, hope and peace everyone! In solidarity


Hmmm
East Palo Alto
on Jul 31, 2020 at 12:02 pm
Hmmm, East Palo Alto
on Jul 31, 2020 at 12:02 pm
Like this comment

Julian - it was mentioned in other articles that the janitor was black. Overall, I’d like to know more about how this concert intersected with East Palo Alto.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.