Jazz Great Charlie Rouse to play Louisville
In the summer of 1964 I attended the Ohio Valley Jazz Festival at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Ohio. The performers that night included the legendary pianist Thelonious Monk and his quartet.
Monk was in a fickle mood during the concert, occasionally jumping up from the piano and dancing around the stage while his saxophonist played with the bass and drums.
Monk’s saxophonist, Charlie Rouse was in great form, blowing chorus after chorus of strong angular jazz. Rouse’s tenor sax was a perfect complement to Monk’s unorthodox piano style. Some critics said he sounded like Monk playing saxophone.
Monday at 5:30 p.m. Louisville jazz fans will get a chance to see Rouse when he performs with the local rhythm section of pianist Ray Johnson, bassist Mark McCulloch and drummer Jonathan Higgins at the Louisville Jazz Society’s Jazz Party at Downstairs at Actors, 316 W. Main St.
Rouse, 61, was born in Washington, D.C. In 1943, he joined Billy Eckstine’s orchestra, which was one of the greatest all-star big bands in jazz history. It included such luminaries as singer Sarah Vaughn, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.
In a telephone interview, Rouse talked about those days.
“When I was growing up there were so many places to play and there was a wealth of jazz talent. Everyone has their own individual styles and all the great jazz artists were working back then,” Rouse said.
Saxophonist Ben Webster was the first established jazz musician to befriend Rouse. Later he would be Webster’s replacement in the Duke Ellington Orchestra. But the new sounds of bebop that were being created by musicians like Parker, Gillespie and Monk were to be Rouse’s major influence.
After leaving Eckstine, Rouse joined Gillespie’s band.
“Dizzy left Eckstine about the same time I did. He formed the big band, and we did a tour down south. After that I joined a group headed by pianist Tadd Dameron featuring trumpeter Fats Navarro,” he said.
Rouse also worked with trombonist Benny Green, saxophonist and vocalist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and a small band led by Count Basie. But he’s probably best known for the years, from 1959 to 1970, that he spent with Monk.
“Monk was a genius. He was one of the great American composers and jazz pianists. He could get a sound out of a piano that no one else had,”
He said his best years with Monk’s quartet was from 1960 to around 1968. During that time the group recorded numerous albums for Columbia Records and toured Europe on a yearly basis.
“Playing with Monk was a real challenge because you never knew what tunes he was going to do on any given night,” Rouse said.
In recent years, Rouse has been playing with Sphere, a quartet that specializes in Monk’s music.
“I’ll be playing a concert with Sphere at Purdue University the day before I perform in Louisville,” he said.
The Louisville Times
January 25, 1986
From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”