Thelonious Monk, born on this day in 1917, has long been a lodestar for improvising musicians, and in particular those who followed in his footsteps as a pianist.
But we’ve also recently seen his legacy flourish in the hands of ambitious guitar players, including Bill Frisell, Steve Cardenas, Miles Okazaki — and now Pasquale Grasso, who has an EP titled Solo Monk releasing tomorrow on Sony Masterworks.
Grasso, 30, has amassed a cult following among guitarists — not only by way of his gigs in New York, but also through the videos he posts to his YouTube channel. He has a sterling mentor in Barry Harris, the bebop piano sage, and a ringing endorsement from Pat Metheny, whose place in the pantheon is secure. (During a 2016 interview with Vintage Guitar, Metheny called Grasso “the best guitar player I’ve heard in maybe my entire life.” You can’t do much better than that.)
Grasso originally hails from the Campania region of Italy, where he studied both classical and jazz technique, and became known as a child prodigy. His earliest memory of Monk’s music involves his father playing a 1956 Riverside album called The Unique Thelonious Monk, featuring Oscar Pettiford on bass and Art Blakey on drums. Something in Monk’s phrasing and sense of line reminded the young Grasso of Charlie Christian, one of his deities on guitar.
You may hear faint echoes of Christian in this version of “‘Round Midnight,” Monk’s signature ballad, filmed recently at The Django in New York. The video, which has its exclusive premiere here, highlights the clarity and deceptive simplicity of Grasso’s fretboard technique, on a custom model by Trenier Guitars.
“‘Round Midnight” is the first taste of Solo Monk, which will also include pieces like “Off Minor” and “Ruby, My Dear.” It’s the latest in a series of Sony Masterworks digital EPs by Grasso, following Solo Standards Vol. 1 and Solo Ballads Volume 1, which were rolled out over the summer.
A fourth EP, spotlighting holiday music, is due for release on Nov. 8. Future installments, beginning in the new year, will focus on the music of Bud Powell, Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, among others.
For more information about Pasquale Grasso, visit his website.