The music of genius Thelonious Monk will be performed at a special event on Friday, October 9. Called Monk Tango, the event will feature Konrad Adderley on bass, Nick Danielson on violin, Tito Castro on bandoneon, Gustavo Casenave on piano, and Reno Padilla on vocals, and include dancers Yaisuri Salamanca, John Hernan Raigoza, Mariana Parma, and Herman Brisuela.
Tickets are available here
Konrad Adderley previews the event in this interview:
What is Monk Tango?
Monk Tango is a marriage of the melodies of Thelonious Monk and the rhythms of Tango. The music is very traditional tango, so if you have never heard of Monk before, the music would still be as familiar as an old shoe.
Is this your first time at Flushing Town Hall?
Yes. This is our first time performing at Flushing Town Hall, and the venue is the perfect size: intimate yet large enough for the dancers to do their thing. Not a bad seat in the house. Since we’re playing in Flushing, I promised the band some amazing Chinese food. If anyone has suggestions please let me know!
What will people experience at your performance?
Monk Tango is a triple threat so lucky audience members will experience musical performance, dancing, and singing on a very high level. They will come to understand that rhythm is what gives a genre its identifying style. The melody can come from anywhere. In this instance, the melodies come from Monk.
The dancing is also top-notch. The dancers are well-seasoned and have won many awards for tango. About 60% of the show is Monk Tango, and in the other 40% we will play tango classics such as “A Media Luz,” “Danzarin” and “La Ultima Copa”. At the end of the show, there is a group number where all of the dancers dance together.
Why Thelonious Monk – what was it about him that made you a fan?
I chose to arrange Thelonious Monk because I am fan of his music. His music is very colorful and lends itself well to tango. Also, I like to try to do things that are unique and have not been done before. The combination of Monk and Tango was a bit of a challenge at first, so that gave me a lot of inspiration and as a result I grew as a musician.
How would you describe his style?
When you have to arrange someone else’s music it becomes sort of an analysis of their style and you become very intimate with how they put things together. If you took a simple nursery song such as ‘Mary had a little lamb’ and sort of mashed it up a bit, threw in some unexpected notes and maybe changed the duration or form of the parts and added some more dense harmonies you come out with Thelonious Monk. You can still tell the song is “Mary had a little lamb” but it becomes more like “Mary grilled a little lamb”. As experimental as Monk was, his songs usually followed some sort of standard format and you always knew where the bridges and verses would come in. Monk was not afraid to do things his way and he was often criticized for it but he was a man of high musical integrity. He was a leader not a follower.
How long have you performed Monk Tango?
We started doing Monk Tango about five years ago in a small theatre in the Bronx called Pregones. That is where the project was born.
Tell us about you – and how you discovered the love of music.
I discovered music very early when I was about five or six years old. I was living on a small island off the coast of Antigua called Barbuda. The locals did not have money to buy instruments, so they made them from whatever they could find. This one instrument called a fish string guitar was made from a piece of stick, fish strings, and a large diameter butter tin that had one lid removed. This particular instrument caught my ear and got inside of me.
When I returned home to New York, I wanted to play music. It was many years later when I was about 13 years old that I took to the bass guitar. I saved $50 in coins and bought my first bass guitar, a Univox 4 string. It was the best investment in myself to date.
When I was about 10 years old my mother took me to a Broadway musical called the “Magic Show” back in the 70’s. It was at the Cort Theatre on 48th Street. Throughout parts of the performance, they had a tiny little spot light on the bass player’s fingers. I thought it was the coolest thing and I left the theatre wanting to play on Broadway.
Ironically the piano player in that show was Stephen Schwartz, the composer of the Wicked. Years later, I landed the job as bassist for Wicked and have been there for 13 years. Funny how God works his magic!
I did my first Broadway show back in the early 80’s when I was only 19 years old, and it was called Dream Girls and starred Jennifer Holiday. Shortly after I did A Chorus Line. I also did a bunch of shows that did not run long.
I did some touring as well. I never was a big fan of the road it was always too much moving around for me, so I have mostly stayed in town. I went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston for a very short time, but my real life music education happened on stage.
You played with Sonny Rollins and Aretha Franklin?
One year, Aretha Franklin came to New York looking for a band, and I heard about the audition. Every bass player in New York was there. At the audition, I didn’t try to impress with my technique instead I emulated the style of Aretha’s early recordings from the 70’s, which I knew well because one of my favorite bass players is Chuck Rainey, who was the bassist on a lot of those sessions. I knew going into the audition that when you play behind a singer you have to play real simple and not step on the melody. It was a lucky day for me!
You are from The Bronx. Where are all of your colleagues from?
I am born and raised in the South Bronx. They call it “downtown Bronx” now because it sounds better. I still live there. By the way, Thelonious Monk lived on Loring Place in the Bronx for a good while as well. The dancers and bandoneon player are from Buenos Aires. The percussionist Joel Mateo is from Puerto Rico, and the singer is from Peru. Our bandoneon player, Tito Castro, is from Buenos Aires, and has been in New York for a very long time and is largely responsible for the New York tango scene. We all share a common respect for classic tango and that’s pretty much what you hear when you come to a Monk Tango concert.
Would you consider this event a tribute?
This concert is a birthday celebration for Thelonious Monk. His birthday is the day after the concert and he would have been 98 years old.