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Rare Jazz Tapes Uncovered Featuring Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane

Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Thelonious Monk at the Village Gate, New York City c. 1968
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Bernard Gotfryd

At a press conference today in Washington, D.C., the Library of Congress announced that historically significant concert tapes, featuring the legendary jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk and iconic saxophonist John Coltrane, had been uncovered in the Library’s recorded sound collection during preparation for preservation.

The 1957 tapes were recorded at Carnegie Hall by the Voice of America (VOA) for broadcast overseas but have never been heard in the United States. The VOA concert tapes also include performances that same evening by the late Ray Charles, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra and the Zoot Sims Quartet with Chet Baker.

“These tapes are a major find for scholars, musicians and collectors of post-war jazz,” said Larry Appelbaum, the Library’s recording engineer and jazz specialist in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, who found the tapes among material to be digitized as part of the Library’s continuing audio preservation program. “A significant discovery like this reminds us why it’s so important to preserve these unique materials.”

The announcement was made as part of a press briefing on Librarian of Congress James H. Billington’s annual selection of 50 sound recordings for the National Recording Registry. Under the terms of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the Librarian is responsible for annually selecting recordings that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” The list can be found on the Library’s Web site at www.loc.gov.

The content of VOA’s original 10-inch mono acetate tapes of the Carnegie Hall concert will be preserved in high-resolution digital files, which will be stored and backed up on the Library’s servers. Along with introductions by VOA program host Willis Conover, the tapes feature approximately 55 minutes of previously unheard Monk and Coltrane and early and late show performances by all of the groups who performed that evening. The Monk Quartet with Coltrane plays “Evidence,” “Monk’s Mood,” “ Crepescule With Nellie,” “Nutty,” “Epistrophy,” “Bye-Ya, Sweet and Lovely” and “Blue Monk.”

The Library of Congress holds the nation’s largest public collection of sound recordings (music and spoken word) and radio broadcasts. The collection of nearly 3 million recordings representing almost every sound recording format includes more than 500,000 LPs, 450,000 78-rpm discs, 500,000 unpublished discs, 200,000 compact discs, 175,000 tape reels, 150,000 45-rpm discs and 75,000 cassettes. Among the unusual formats in the collection are wires, instantaneous discs, cylinders, music box discs, rolls, bands, dictabelts and Memovox discs.

The Library’s collection includes more than 50,000 VOA tapes and discs of musical events broadcast from 1946-1988. The Library ’s jazz collections include musical scores, manuscripts, photographs and personal recording collections of Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Mingus, Milt Hinton, Carmen McRae, Billy Taylor, Charlie Barnett, Louis Bellson and others.

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