The San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra presented the Joshua White Ensemble in a special tribute to the music of Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane on Saturday, May 20, at the San Bernardino Valley College Auditorium. This performance was part of the Symphony’s Chamber Series curated – and at this event also performed in – by Music Director and Conductor Anthony Parnther.
“Following the popularity of last year’s focus on Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, we were excited to design a new concert centering on the legendary musical minds of John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk,” explained Maestro Parnther. “Bringing the great Joshua White to San Bernardino was a real coup for our organization, and I can’t think of anyone better to feature on such a technically challenging concert.”
Thelonius Sphere Monk (1917-1982) was an American jazz pianist and composer with a quique improvisational style whose work significantly informed the standard jazz repertoire. The second most recorded jass composer after Duke Ellington, his compositions and improvisations feature dissonances and angular melodic twists and are consistent to his unorthodox approach to the piano which combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of switched ket releases, silences, and hesitations.
John William Coltrane (1926–1967) was an American jazz saxophonist, bandleader and composer. He is among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th-century music. Coltrane moved to Philadelphia after graduating high school, where he studied music. Working in the bebop idiom early in his career, he helped pioneer the use of modes and was one of the players at the forefront of free jazz. However, his addiction to heroin stalled his career and it was not until he formed a collaboration with Monk that he was able to turn his life and his music around.
Following, he led at least fifty recording sessions and appeared on many albums by other musicians, including, of course, Thelonius Monk. Arguably, their most important album collaboration is 1961’s Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane. The impetus for the album was the discovery of three usable studio tracks recorded by the Monk Quartet with Coltrane in July 1957 at the beginning of the band’s six-month residency at New York’s legendary Five Spot Club. To round out the release, label Jazzland included two outtakes from the Monk’s Music album recorded the previous month, and one additional outtake from Thelonius Himself recorded that April. The album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007.
Joshua White’s own style is in many ways a reflection of the Monk-Coltrane partnership. As one of the current music scene’s most creative and technically accomplished pianists, and praised by legendary musicians like Herbie Hancock as having “immense talent” and lauded for his “daring and courageous approach to improvisation… on the cutting edge of innovation,” Joshua White has distinguished himself as a formidable leader among his peers. Born and raised in Southern California, White received early training at the piano and developed rapidly through rigorous study of both Western European Classical literature and the Black American Music traditions. Shortly after placing in the top two as a finalist of the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition, he began concertizing as a soloist and musical collaborator all over the world — and continues to maintain an active touring schedule throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Meet the ensemble
The ensemble, comprised of a talented and eclectic group of outstanding musicians, included bassist Karl McComas-Reichl, drummer Mark Ferber, vocalist Dwight Trible, alto saxist Josh Johnson, and on tenor sax and clarinet Chris Speed.
Bassist McComas-Reichl is also a cellist, film composer and artist. He earned a BFA from The New School. His arrangement and performance credits include: Baskets Season 4, The Shrink Next Door, Special, Three Busy Debras, ONI: Thunder Gods Tale, Grace & Frankie, NY State Lottery Other performance credits include: Jane Monheit, Ingrid Jensen, Mark Turner, John C. Reilly, Larry Goldings, Ben Monder, Matt Wilson, Joshua White, Joy Crookes, Matt Otto, Tony Tixier, Anthony Wilson, Glenn Zaleski, Josh Nelson, Peter Schlamb, Hermon Mehari, Maelo Ruiz, Liberty Ellman, Logan Richardson, Colin Stranahan, Geoff Keezer, Logan Hone and Tommy Crane.
Drummer Mark Ferber can be heard on nearly 200 recordings. His ongoing projects include ECM recording artist Ralph Alessi’s ‘This Against That’, the Marc Copland trio, the Brad Shepik Organ Trio, and his twin brother, Alan Ferber’s Grammy nominated big band. He currently maintains a busy freelance schedule throughout New York’s jazz clubs, recording studios, and international touring circuit. Past work includes tours and recordings with Lee Konitz, Gary Peacock, Jonathan Kreisberg, John O’Gallagher, Don Byron, Fred Hersch, Tony Malaby, Anna Webber, Mark Helias, Pete McCann, Matt Pavolka, Michael Attias and Billy Childs, among others. Mark has taught extensively in the United States and Europe.
Vocalist Dwight Trible combines the best of vocal virtuosity with musicianship and improvisational skills to the delight of audiences and musicians alike. In addition to performing with his own group, the Dwight Trible Ensemble, he is the vocalist with the Pharaoh Sanders Quartet and is also the vocal director for the Horace Tapscott Pan Afrikan Peoples’ Arkestra. Trible has worked with such notables as Oscar Brown Jr., Charles Lloyd, Billy Childs, Kenny Burrell, Kenny Garrett, Steve Turre, Harold Land, Harry Belafonte, Della Reese and Norman Conners, John Beasley, Patrice Rushen, Babatunde Lea, Ernie Watts, Kahlil El Zabar, as well as contemporary soul artist like LA Reid and DJ Rogers.
Josh Johnson is a saxophonist, keyboardist, multi-instrumentalist, and composer. He has performed extensively with the likes of Jeff Parker, Kiefer, Makaya McCraven, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Leon Bridges, and Marquis Hill. Johnson can be heard on records by all of these artists, as well as records from the Chicago Underground Quartet, Jeremy Cunningham, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Dawes, Dexter Story, Louis Cole, and Joshua White. Since 2018, Johnson has been the musical director, keyboardist, and saxophonist for Leon Bridges, which has taken him to Europe, Asia, and Australia. Highlights of his time with Bridges include sold-out performances at Radio City Music Hall, Greek Theater, and the Hollywood Bowl. As a composer, Johnson has written music for many of his own projects, including the bands Snaarj and Holophonor, in addition to writing music for commercial use. He recently contributed arrangements to Sara Gazarek’s album “Thirsty Ghost”, which was nominated for two Grammy awards.
Chris Speed is a tenor saxophonist, clarinetist and composer, whose work ranges widely, from a jazz base out through various forms of folk, classical and rock music. Affiliated with a bewildering variety of ensembles, he has been a prominent and influential voice in jazz and improvised music for three decades. After studies at New England Conservatory followed by a stint with the Artie Shaw Band (led by Dick Johnson), Speed moved to New York City where he started working with Tim Berne and his band Bloodcount. Speed has put an inimitable stamp on the classic sax-bass-drums format. Most compelling about his music is the incorporation of early jazz styles in a way that is direct and deeply felt.