J. R. Monterose
J.R. or JR (derived from Jr.) Monterose grew up in Utica,
New York, where his family moved a few months after his birth. He began formal clarinetstudies at thirteen, but was largely self taught as a tenor saxophonist, which he took up at fifteen after hearing Glenn Millerband soloist Tex Beneke. His earliest stylistic influences were Coleman Hawkinsand Chu Berry, but, as he told critic Leonard Feather, he also found harmonic inspiration in pianists, citing particularly the example of Bud Powelland the instruction of a Utica-based guitarist/pianist named Sam Mancusoin helping him learn how to use chord changes.
His first professional experience was playing in upstate New York territory dance bands (1947-49). In 1950 joined the nationally touring orchestra led by Henry "Hot Lips" Busse. After a brief return to Utica, he joined the
Buddy Richbig band in late 1951; but though the band had some excellent bop-oriented musicians (Rich, Dave Schildkraut, Allen Eagerand Philly Joe Jones) he soon left, citing the lack of soloing opportunities. "After six months I was drugged with my own playing," he declared in a 1956 interview, "and I went back home and spent the next couple of years working in little joints but with good men." [Leonard Feather, Liner Notes to "J. R. Monterose", Blue Note Connoisseur Series (CD reissue of 1956 BN LP)]
New York Cityin the mid to late 50s, he was variously a featured soloist with Claude Thornhill's orchestra as well as with vibraphonist Teddy Charles' modernist groups, Charles Mingus's Jazz Workshop and, most notably from his own perspective, Kenny Dorham's short-lived but artistically acclaimed Jazz Prophets. Dorham, Monterose told critic Mark Gardner in 1975, "was one of the greatest leaders and players I ever played for. . . . A wonderful musician." [Mark Gardner, Liner Notes (1975) to "J. R. Monterose/The Message", Prevue Reissue, 1998] He also recorded two much praised sessions as leader, "JR Monterose" (Blue Note, 1956) produced by Alfred Lionwith liner notes by Leonard Featherand "The Message" (Jaro, 1959) produced by Manny Albamwith Nat Hentoffproviding laudatory commentary.
The record of his life thereafter, however, is one of sparsely documented itinerancy, pursuing his ever evolving craft in small time U.S. venues and during more or less extended stays (late 60's through the mid 70's) in
Belgium, The Netherlandsand Denmark, with occasional low-profile recordings ("In Action", "Body and Soul") recorded in such places as Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Wageningen, The Netherlands. This preference for small group work in often out of the way places was the factor that would shape much of his subsequent career, contributing to the personal musical growth upon which he was always so intently focused but ultimately relegating him to an undeserved obscurity.
The last decade and a half of his life was spent gigging mostly at various upstate New York venues. A 1981 duet recording with old friend
Tommy Flanagan("A Little Pleasure", Reservoir) presents Monterose at his late period best and features some rare and quite ravishing work on soprano. The similarly delightful result of brief visit to play Copenhagen's Jazzhuz in 1988, fortuitously recorded by Danish Broadcasting, has been released by Storyville under the title "T.T.T.". Other live recordings from his final years, when he was in less than robust health, are available on the Croscrane specialty label.
Influence and legacy
While Monterose seems to have unsentimentally regarded himself as the quintessential underground artist, his work, both as player and composer, was, and remains, highly esteemed among musicians, critics and aficionados of classic jazz. He never denied having been influenced in turn by
Stan Getz, Sonny Rollinsand John Coltrane, but steadfastly refused to let himself be pigeonholed as a practitioner of any particular style. "I've tried all my life to avoid copying. If I can't be myself, there's no point being in jazz." [Nat Hentoff, Liner Notes to "The Message", Prevue CD PR4 (Reissue of a 1959 Jaro/Xanadu LP)] It was precisely this uncompromising insistence on going his own way, both musically and geographically, that has moved jazz historian and writer David Brent Johnson to describe Monterose as "The Best Tenor You Never Heard." [David Brent Johnson, http://nightlights.blogs.wfiu.org/2007/01/13/the-best-tenor-you-never-heard-jr-monterose/ ]
* [http://www.jazzdiscography.com/Artists/Monterose/index.html J. R. Monterose Discography] , retrieved on
November 23, 2007.
* [http://hardbop.tripod.com/monterose.html J. R. Monterose] at The Hard Bop Home Page, retrieved on
November 23, 2007.
* Allen, Clifford, Heavy Soul Music by Hans Dulfer and J. R. Monterose (Review of "J. R. Monterose is Alive in Amsterdam Paradiso  "), Paris Transatlantic, Jan. 2006, reprinted at http://www.soundstage.com/vinyl/vinyl200307.htm, retrieved on
November 23, 2007.
* Crosset, John, "J. R. Monterose (Reissue review)" Vinyl Word, reprinted at http://www.soundstage.com/vinyl/vinyl200307.htm, retrieved on
November 23, 2007.
* Leitch, Peter, Liner Notes to "J. R. Monterose, Tommy Flanagan/A Little Pleasure," Reservoir CD 109.
* Pujol, Jordi, Liner Notes to "J. R. Monterose/Jaywalkin'", Fresh Sound Records, CD 430
* Vacher, Peter, Liner Notes to " J.R. Montrose [sic.] /T.T.T.", Storyville, CD8291.
* Yanow, Scott, '"J. R. Monterose," at [http://wc09.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll All Music Guide] , retrieved on
November 23, 2007.
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