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Thelonious Monk

The most important jazz musicians are the ones who are successful in creating their own original world of music with its own rules, logic, and surprises. Thelonious Monk, who was criticized by observers who failed to listen to his music on its own terms, suffered through a decade of neglect before he was suddenly acclaimed as a genius; his music had not changed one bit in the interim. In fact, one of the more remarkable aspects of Monk's music was that it was fully formed by 1947 and he saw no need to alter his playing or compositional style in the slightest during the next 25 years.

Thelonious Monk grew up in New York, started playing piano when he was around five, and had his first job touring as an accompanist to an evangelist. He was inspired by the Harlem stride pianists (James P. Johnson was a neighbor) and vestiges of that idiom can be heard in his later unaccompanied solos. However, when he was playing in the house band of Minton's Playhouse during 1940-1943, Monk was searching for his own individual style. Private recordings from the period find him sometimes resembling Teddy Wilson but starting to use more advanced rhythms and harmonies. He worked with Lucky Millinder a bit in 1942 and was with the Cootie Williams Orchestra briefly in 1944 (Williams recorded Monk's "Epistrophy" in 1942 and in 1944 was the first to record "'Round Midnight"), but it was when he became Coleman Hawkins' regular pianist that Monk was initially noticed. He cut a few titles with Hawkins (his recording debut) and, although some of Hawkins' fans complained about the eccentric pianist, the veteran tenor could sense the pianist's greatness.

The 1945-1954 period was very difficult for Thelonious Monk. Because he left a lot of space in his rhythmic solos and had an unusual technique, many people thought that he was an inferior pianist. His compositions were so advanced that the lazier bebop players (although not Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker) assumed that he was crazy. And Thelonious Monk's name, appearance (he liked funny hats), and personality (an occasionally uncommunicative introvert) helped to brand him as some kind of nut. Fortunately, Alfred Lion of Blue Note believed in him and recorded Monk extensively during 1947-1948 and 1951-1952. He also recorded for Prestige during 1952-1954, had a solo set for Vogue in 1954 during a visit to Paris, and appeared on a Verve date with Bird and Diz. But work was very sporadic during this era and Monk had to struggle to make ends meet.

His fortunes slowly began to improve. In 1955, he signed with Riverside and producer Orrin Keepnews persuaded him to record an album of Duke Ellington tunes and one of standards so his music would appear to be more accessible to the average jazz fan. In 1956 came the classic Brilliant Corners album, but it was the following year when the situation permanently changed. Monk was booked into the Five Spot for a long engagement and he used a quartet that featured tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. Finally, the critics and then the jazz public recognized Thelonious Monk's greatness during this important gig. The fact that he was unique was a disadvantage a few years earlier when all modern jazz pianists were expected to sound like Bud Powell (who was ironically a close friend), but by 1957 the jazz public was looking for a new approach. Suddenly, Monk was a celebrity and his status would not change for the remainder of his career. In 1958, his quartet featured the tenor of Johnny Griffin (who was even more compatible than Coltrane), in 1959 he appeared with an orchestra at Town Hall (with arrangements by Hall Overton), in 1962 he signed with Columbia and two years later was on the cover of Time. A second orchestra concert in 1963 was even better than the first and Monk toured constantly throughout the 1960s with his quartet which featured the reliable tenor of Charlie Rouse. He played with the Giants of Jazz during 1971-1972, but then in 1973 suddenly retired. Monk was suffering from mental illness and, other than a few special appearances during the mid-'70s, he lived the rest of his life in seclusion. After his death it seemed as if everyone was doing Thelonious Monk tributes. There were so many versions of "'Round Midnight" that it was practically a pop hit! But despite the posthumous acclaim and attempts by pianists ranging from Marcus Roberts to Tommy Flanagan to recreate his style, there was no replacement for the original.

Some of Thelonious Monk's songs became standards early on, most notably "'Round Midnight," "Straight No Chaser," "52nd Street Theme," and "Blue Monk." Many of his other compositions have by now been figured out by other jazz musicians and are occasionally performed including "Ruby My Dear," "Well You Needn't," "Off Minor," "In Walked Bud," "Misterioso," "Epistrophy," "I Mean You," "Four in One," "Criss Cross," "Ask Me Now," "Little Rootie Tootie," "Monk's Dream," "Bemsha Swing," "Think of One," "Friday the 13th," "Hackensack," "Nutty," "Brilliant Corners," "Crepuscule With Nellie" (written for his strong and supportive wife), "Evidence," and "Rhythm-a-Ning," Virtually all of Monk's recordings (for Blue Note, Prestige, Vogue, Riverside, Columbia, and Black Lion) have been reissued and among his sidemen through the years were Idrees Sulieman, Art Blakey, Milt Jackson, Lou Donaldson, Lucky Thompson, Max Roach, Julius Watkins, Sonny Rollins, Clark Terry, Gerry Mulligan, John Coltrane, Wilbur Ware, Shadow Wilson, Johnny Griffin, Donald Byrd, Phil Woods, Thad Jones, and Charlie Rouse. His son Thelonious Monk, Jr. (T.S. Monk) has helped keep the hard bop tradition alive with his quintet and has headed the Thelonious Monk Institute, whose yearly competitions succeed in publicizing talented young players. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

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My favorite song of us and indeed one of my all time favorite jazz melodies. He doesn't play it the same way each time, a reat testament to the creative artist he was.
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GENIUS!!!!!
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Listening to Brilliant Corners, perhaps his most technically challenging piece. Genius.
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Musicians are still catching up! ♤♤♢●●●
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I was privileged to have seen Monk one afternoon in a Brooklyn club in the late 60's. With his hat on/off what genius!
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jkrukowski
Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.
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Listening to Mood Indigo from the Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington album. One genius interpreting the work of another. Delightful.
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Just no superlative good enough !
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poppa_bear49
Monk really makes you believe in yourself and your feelings. If you stay strong in what you feel and hear you can accomplish anything. Monk made more than music, he made LIFE!!!
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Melodious Thunk?
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Monk the dream is true
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Just beautiful.
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What can one say about Monk that has not already been said by musicians and fans alike? Pure genius.
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In my early teens Mom turned me on to jazz, Joined Columbia Record Club in 1961 and my first album, Blue Monk arrived in time for my birthday. Still an avid listener and fan 50+ years later
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No one writes such an immediately catchy and hummable tune. Unlike anyone else. And by looking at his cryptic smile, u know he was cool as hell.
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dad turned me on to monk when i was still in high school....66 and still turned on
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PLAYED TWICE wow !!!!
Monk pretty much preaches a sermon on this recording !!! Sparse notes but, so meaningful x
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Monk is not for the INTELLECTUAL L Y CHALLENGED :) it's SCIENCE OF THE HIGHEST ORDER X
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Really fabulous
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....required listening for any serious jazz fan.
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tyrobi27
Introduced to his music by a jazz pianist friend back in 1970 when I as playing trumpet at clubs in Buffalo, NY& city He has been and always will be uniquely different.
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wow spiritual describes how I feel about his music , he was a true genius
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I love Monk
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jtcpro
Spiritual
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HIS MUSIC IS SMOOTH
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I grew up three blocks from mintons and the old cats always talked about monk being from another planet
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rogerblocke
God do I ever love this music!
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jeffreymqs64 1
If you need some extra income you can use BLUDOS.COM this is a way to make cash with surveys for free. It's very simple.
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claricentp91 7
People interested in making a few extra bucks per day you can check out BLUDOS.COM This site makes me around 70 usd per day. It's free to sign up.
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shawnnavuz71 1
If you wish to add some extra money to you wallet go to BLUDOS.COM They offer really easy free online jobs where you can make a few extra hundred dollas a week !
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Ruby, my dear. I cant come up with a comment better than the title. Cant beat Thelonious- esp w Coltrane... Heavenly
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skirtsoplain
i love how his piano always sounds out of tune....he's the Kurt Cobain of piano jazz
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Green Chimneys... that's my favorite!!! But i like them all... GENIUS
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I really like smoke gets in your eyes, partly because I know the straight tune, so I can appreciate what he's doing, and partly because his playing is so multifacted, just as the tune'd lyrics are multi layered.
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His ballads like Round Midnight, Ruby My Dear, and Crepuscule with Nellie move me damn near to tears.
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tub87126
Simply brilliant
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❌❤❌❤
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lisa.mangobl u e
Yeah...
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Well said ivalb47!! So true. :)
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Jazz is a good reason to feel good about yourself, others and life in general. It gives (me) you that little extra something needed. You don't quite now what it is needed, but when you hear Monk, you know.
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A brilliant, 'mad' genius who left his mark firmly stamped in Jazz and music in general.
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dailydonut
Wonderful Bio. Thanks. I agree 100%. Monk was a true genius, and no one could ever duplicate his sense of time.
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If there were not a Monk one would have to ...err never mind
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cheshirecatb a n
Monk is undeniable on the 1st listen!! Oh, and Black Daddy down there: CAPS and a bad 'attude' make your well intended statement seem angry. Monk did know where he was, though.
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paconine
the bio neglects to mention nica
wha... ?
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sharper19
T. Sphere Monk... one of a kind
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ONE HAS TO UNDERSTAND THELONIUS... H E IS WHAT EVERY MUSICIAN IS TO THEIR INSTRUMENT.. . A DADDY, AND AN OBEDIENT CHILD DOES WIHATEVER DADDY SAYS LOL...I SAW A BIOGRAPHY OF THEO ON TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES...AND THE BROTHER EMBODIED THE MASTER OF HIS OWN STYLE. HE HAD AN ATTUDE OF THIS IS HOW I HEAR THIS AND YOU WILL HEA IT AS I DO...IF YOU DONT LIKE IT THEN SHUT UP AND LISTEN...YOU GONE LIKE IT ANYWAY. NOW THAT'S NAT TURNER!!!
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I started listening to Thelonious in 1964, at age 14. All my friends were listening to Motown and the British wave. Now age 61 my nickname is still Monk and I still can't get enough! Play on Man!!!!
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daniebean8
I have a hard time understandin g that anybody EVER thought his work wasn't brilliant.
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type and listen
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