Though a top tenor man in his own right, he will always be remembered as the saxophonist for the Thelonious Monk quartet. He adapted his playing to Monk’s music; his tone became heavier, his phrasing more careful, and he seemed to be the medium between Monk and the audience.
Charlie Rouse studied clarinet before taking up tenor saxophone. He played in the bop big bands of Billy Eckstine (1944) and Dizzy Gillespie (1945), but made his first recordings as a soloist only in 1947, with Tadd Dameron and Fats Navarro.
After playing rhythm-and-blues in Washington and New York, he was a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra (1949-50) and Count Basie's octet (1950). He took part in Clifford Brown's first recordings in 1953, then worked with Bennie Green (1955) and played in Oscar Pettiford's sextet (1955); with Julius Watkins, also one of Pettiford's sidemen, he led Les Modes (later the Jazz Modes), a bop quintet (1956-59). He joined Buddy Rich briefly before playing in Thelonious Monk's quartet (1959-1970), the association for which he is best known.
In the 1960s Rouse adapted his style to Monk's work, improvising with greater deliberation than most bop tenor saxophonists, and restating melodies often. His distinctive solo playing with Monk may be heard on the classic recordings in the bands heyday.
Though he would go on to do some solo projects, they were very selective and he opted for quality over quantity. His first outing as leader was “Taking Care of Business,” (1960) for this overdue debut, he selected trumpeter Blue Mitchell, and a rhythm section of pianist Walter Bishop and bassist Earl May, and Art Taylor on drums.