Story and photographs by Michael Hochanadel
“Terry, let me pull your coat.” Terry Adams sat beside me in the only coffee shop open in Brattleboro on Easter Sunday. I’d used jazz jargon advisedly: I’d been touring with NRBQ since Thursday in Burlington where Adams led both a special combo and NRBQ through “Terry Plays Monk and…” – a tribute to Thelonious Monk. As we waited for Billy Shaw to open Soundesign Studios where Adams and crew would record the Monk tunes they’d played at FlynnSpace in Burlington, I told Adams about the guy who sat next to me there. A greybeard about my age, he’d never heard of NRBQ: He’d come to hear Monk music. He’d seen Miles and ‘Trane live but never saw Monk play. After the show, he said it was the best live music he’d seen in 20 years.
I didn’t know I’d be taking the ferry across Lake Champlain on Thursday until my bossy GPS said, “Get on the ferry,” a fitting start to witness a crossing Adams made from rock to jazz. He actually started this pilgrimage at 14 on falling in love with Monk’s music, and he’s played Monk tunes with NRBQ for decades. But he raised expectations and the pressure on himself by announcing a whole set of Monk songs, lamenting on taking this mission that he wouldn’t sleep for six weeks.
Driving through the Adironacks, I’d gotten more and more excited. The landscape gleamed: Snow lingered on peaks and ridges while gaps in the clouds let light fall onto lakes and ponds like bright coins onto a burnished table. The music plan promised big: Adams would lead a special jazz combo, including my brother Jim, through a set of Monk tunes, then tackle more Monk music with NRBQ, mixing in NRBQ songs.
Adams had to scramble to pull it all together. He finished mixing the new live NRBQ album “We Travel the Spaceways” just before rehearsing the Monk combo for three days in Northampton. That’s where I delivered a pedal steel guitar on Palm Sunday for my brother Jim Hoke to play, borrowing the steel and an amp from Kevin Maul in Cohoes. Still, the players were tense at FlynnSpace in Burlington (the black-box theatre under the Flynn Center) during sound check and a last rehearsal.