The Teen Promoter, the Janitor, and a Stunning Rediscovered Thelonious Monk Gig

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tags: segregation, music, jazz, 1960s, Thelonious Monk

In 1968, when great rock music impresario Bill Graham established the legendary Fillmore East in an abandoned movie theater in New York for world-famous bands such as The Doors, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, a Jewish high school student named Danny Scher from Palo Alto, California, launched his own career as a concert promoter — only he was into jazz music.

Later, their careers would intersect when Scher worked for Holocaust survivor Graham for over two decades. But in October 1968, the persuasive 16-year-old Scher was busy convincing the great American jazz composer and pianist Thelonious Monk to play for an audience in his Palo Alto High School auditorium.

Unusual for the time, the audience was integrated. White residents from Palo Alto and Stanford University students were there, along with residents from neighboring all-Black East Palo Alto. The young Scher had managed to bring people from both sides of the Bayshore Freeway together — if only for one afternoon — in a politically tumultuous and racially charged year.

A recording of that exceptional October 27, 1968, performance survives, and will be released for the first time on July 31 on the well-known jazz label Impulse! Records. The album, titled, “Palo Alto,” features six numbers played by Monk and his quartet — Charlie Rouse (tenor sax), Larry Gales (bass), and Ben Riley (drums).

Scher’s excitement about the album’s release 52 years after it was recorded by a member of the school’s custodial staff was palpable in a recent video interview with The Times of Israel from his home near Berkeley.

“A school janitor asked me if he could record it and I gave him a blank quarter-inch reel-to-reel tape. I didn’t even realize at the time that I wasn’t supposed to record the concert. Afterwards he gave the tape back to me and I just put it away in a closet in my parents’ house,” said Scher, who is now 68.

Read entire article at Times of Israel