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Thelonious Monk

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Parker & Monk

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Thelonious Monk, Piano



b. October 10, 1917; d. February 17, 1982

birth place


Rocky Mount, NC



Although early accounts of his piano prowess suggest a level of facility bordering on Tatumesque, Thelonious Monk worked diligently to develop and preserve a truly iconoclastic style of piano playing. His piano playing became one of the most instantly recognizable sounds in all of modern jazz. His manner of playing, with much of its sustenance to be mined in the slender gap between the keys thereby engaging duo tones, also featured an uncommon use of open space and so-called “wrong” notes.$0$0Yet another jazz giant born in the Carolinas, Monk developed musically on the streets of New York City. Though little is spoken of his earliest years, except for the fact that religion and religious music played major roles in his development, one of his earliest professional jobs was as a house pianist at Minton’s Playhouse in the early 40s. It was there, and at other Harlem clubs, that Monk along with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Kenny Clark and a small coterie of fellow restless musicians began developing a new music, what critics came to refer to as bebop. Unlike most of his peers Monk had relatively little experience playing in big bands, Lucky Millinder’s outfit being one notable exception in 1942.$0$0The small group was Monk’s forte and he found a home in Coleman Hawkns band in 1944, prompting observers like his eventual student Randy Weston to wonder ‘what’s this guy doing playing piano with Hawk?’ Thereafter Monk began largely leading his own small bands, recording for the Blue Note and Prestige labels. Among the major musicians who worked with Monk were Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Wilbur Ware, Johnny Griffin, Charlie Rouse, and several interesting drummers, including Shadow Wilson, Frankie Dunlap, and Ben Riley. Monk also recorded extensively for the Riverside and Columbia labels, curiously waxing his own big band sides for both.$0$0Though his piano style was powerfully influential, and his band leadership was a study in eccentricity, it may well be as a composer that Thelonious Monk is best remembered. He was often so moved by the work of his sidemen he would frequently abandon the piano to do his own herky-jerky dance alongside his instrument. Since the mid-late 1940s when his tunes began entering the standard book, the great majority of since have either recorded or performed Monk tunes, often in wholesale fashion. Such classics as his “Round Midnight” have become foundations by which young musicians learn to play jazz, and creative sustenance to hundreds of veteran players.

Watch Thelonious play 'Round Midnight.

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Best of Thelonious Monk: The Blue Note Years

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