Heads of State re-create Monk classic with “Four in One”


Like The Cookers, Heads of State is comprised of jazz veterans. (It should be noted that there is also a pop/ r&b supergroup called Heads of State.) The jazz quartet formed in New York City. They recorded their first album in 2015. According to the band’s bio, the members of Heads of State create original music as well as playing music by iconic musicians who have “mentored them – – in many cases personally.”  The band’s original name was the Larry Willis All-Stars.

Described as “living legends,” the members of Heads of State bring a wealth of jazz experience with them. Even so, saxophonist Gary Bartz explains at www.dlmedia.com, that “We’re trying as best as we know how to establish our identity… and not sound like a jam session band.”

In addition to Bartz, Heads of State is comprised of pianist Larry Willis,  drummer Al Foster, and bassist David “Happy” Williams.

“Four in One,” the album that bears the self-titled track, is the group’s second and was released in 2017. The song is succinct, but detailed and fans of famed pianist Thelonius Monk will recognize that the iconic sound is artistically re-created on Heads of State’s version of “Four in One.”


“Four in One” by Heads of State


The clatter of drums opens the song. The saxophone line is insistent but at first strikes a lonely-sounding chord. Which is artful in and of itself. This is not to say that jazz must evoke happiness to be effective. Often the opposite is the case. At any rate, the saxophone continues to take to the lead in the soundscape. The showcase is faster paced and nuanced. The bass, drum, and piano play in time more with each other than the horn. The piano line is almost off-kilter. Listeners who fail to pay attention will not hear how the seemingly almost “off” characteristic is woven into the song’s overall sound. The piano motif then develops into a showcase. Strident notes play loudly against the well-behaved musical backdrop.

Just as listeners have acclimated themselves to the sound of the piano in the forefront, the upright bass takes over. The deep-pitched instrument’s lines are surprisingly nimble. The drums, too, get a turn in a showcase. The percussion sound gets bigger – – nearly thunderous toms play alternately to crisp and shimmery high hats. The song ends as the saxophone weaves its final motif through the soundscape. It is much like the promise of more to come, next time.

If “Four in One” is any indication, Heads of State bring their impressive years of experience to the interpretation of jazz classics. “Four in One” is forceful and confident without trying too hard. The rotating showcases help to keep the song’s dynamics fresh. Interested parties will no doubt want to revisit Monk’s original to appreciate this take on “Four in One.”

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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