Friday, November 21, 1997

50 years ago: Thelonious Monk recorded “Round Midnight”

‘Round Midnight

Thelonious Monk

Writer(s): Thelonious Monk, Cootie Williams, Bernie Hanighen (see lyrics here)

Recorded: November 21, 1947

First Charted: --

Peak: -- (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 2.5 video, -- streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

“Jazz is often romanticized as the sound of the city at night when the bustle has died down…but few of its composers ever managed to capture that last call feeling, and none did it quite like Thelonious Monk.” NPR “Round Midnight” is, according to, “the most-recorded jazz standard written by any jazz musician.” JS Jazz legend Herbie Hancock called it “a cornerstone in the whole evolution of jazz.” NPR It has even been called the “National Anthem of Jazz.” JS

Pianist Thelonious Monk wrote the “darkly beautiful ballad with an after-hours feel” JS around 1940 or 1941. Monk’s producer, Harry Colomby, claims an early version may have been written as far back as 1936 when Monk was 19. WK In the book Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music, Thomas Fitterling says he wrote it even earlier when he was 18. JS

Regardless of when he wrote it, Monk didn’t copyright it until September 24, 1943 under the title “I Need You So” with lyrics he wrote. WK He didn’t record it himself until November 21, 1947, WK by which time it was already well known NPR Trumpeter Cootie Williams recorded the song on August 22, 1944, after being persuaded by pianist Bud Powell. WK There are different accounts as to whether or not Williams modified the song, but he ended up with a writing credit. JS

New lyrics were added by Bernie Hanighen, a songwriter and producer, and published on November 27, 1944, under the title “Grand Finale.” WK Jackie Paris introduced this new vocal version in 1949. JS In 1946, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie embellished the song JS with a new intro that was originally the end of his arrangement of “I Can’t Get Started.” WK It became a standard part of the song. JS

Miles Davis recorded the song several times in the ‘50s and it became one of his signature songs. WK His “show-stopping performance of the song at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival” JS was considered a major turning point for the song, Davis, and the world of jazz in general because it introduced the song to the jazz public at large. JS By the end of the ‘50s, the song “was firmly entrenched as a jazz standard” NPR thanks to Davis and versions by Dexter Gordon and Sarah Vaughan. NPR

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First posted 4/21/2021.

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