Charlie Rouse, Epistrophy
Landmark (Orrin Keepnews)
The Last Concert
Recorded in San Francisco
Thelonious Monk Birthday Tribute
1988 Jazz In The City Festival
Charlie Rouse tenor sax
Don Cherry trumpet
Buddy Montgomery vibes
George Cables piano
Jessica Williams piano
Jeff Chambers bass
Ralph Penland drums
"The last time Charlie Rouse picked up his tenor in public was as the special guest at a concert honoring Thelonious Monk's birthday. The program, naturally enough, consisted of Monk compositions, selected by Rouse and the other performers, with some help from me. In particular, I suggested that Rouse be joined by Cables, Cherry and Montgomery (each of whom, along with Jessica Williams, had had an individual feature spot earlier in the evening) for a two-tune finale. 'Round Midnight was an inevitable part of the repertoire; and what more suitable way to close than with a full-long version of Epistrophy.
Thus, the very last piece Charlie played for an audience was the one he had played repeatedly and almost nightly for more than a decade as the sign-off theme for Monk's quartet.
It's a set of circumstances far too contrived and sentimental to be acceptable in fiction, but that is how it really happened. Seven weeks later on November 30, Rouse succumbed in a Seattle hospital to the lung cancer few people even knew he had. That private ending was the way Charlie and his wife, Mary Ellen, preferred to accept the inevitable. It was pretty much the way Rouse lived his life: quiet, with dignity, and a lot less aggressively than many people thought he should have.
He was one of those who let his playing speak to the world for him, and it did so quite eloquently. But Rouse was rarely out in front on a band stand, and so his abilities were for the most part appreciated only by fellow musicians, and by listeners and writers with taste and understanding—which is a relatively small audience, though a satisfying one. It does not put him down at all to characterize Rouse as a sideman, particularly when you can point to eleven years as the perfect colleague for Thelonious—a man not at all noted for patience or for accepting the status quo. You didn't remain with this pianist just because he wasn't up to making a change; quite the opposite, he knew how well his music was being grasped and interpreted all those years...
Orrin Keepnews + Charlie Rouse share some words about Monk
I last saw and heard Rouse on Monk's birthday in 1988... He was playing extremely well that night. There were no readily visible or audible clues to his illness—except possibly in his willingness to talk with me about Monk in front of the audience. Being that extroverted was not at all characteristic, so I'm particularly glad we have those incisive first-hand comments..."
— Orrin Keepnews (1923-2015), excerpt from Epistrophy Liner Notes