Archive for Composer of the Week

Thelonious Monk, Genius of Modern Music

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on November 21, 2017 by telescoper

I was delighted to discover that this week’s Composer of the Week on BBC Radio 3 is none other than the great Thelonious Monk, who thoroughly deserves the honour as he was enormously influential as a composer as well as a bandleader and piano soloist. Many of Monk’s highly original compositions – such as Blue Monk, Straight No Chaser, In Walked Bud and ‘Round Midnight– have become jazz standards, but his unique approach to composition really changed the entire evolution of jazz in the immediate post-war era. In fact, Monk is the second-most recorded jazz composer ever, after Duke Ellington (a man he admired enormously and whose piano style influenced Monk’s).

The series of radio programmes about him is particularly timely as this year marks the centenary of his birth (10th October 1917).

In my top 50 jazz albums there would probably be about half a dozen by Thelonious Monk. I’ve loved his music since I heard the very first track by him way back when I was a teenager. Although he has often been given the nickname `The High Priest of Bop’, I’ve never really thought of him as fitting neatly in the bebop style – the archetypal bebop pianist was surely Bud Powell – but he was clearly a profound influence on others of that era, such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. I should add that he was entirely self-taught, which is probably how he managed to get that instantly recognisable sound. You only need to hear one note to know that it’s Monk.

I think the word `genius’ is extremely overused these days, and I tend to reserve it for those who show such an astonishing level of creativity that you think to yourself `Where on Earth did that come from?’. In my opinion it is no exaggeration to apply the word `genius’ to Thelonious Monk. He was a very special artist. Indeed when he was signed up by the fledgling Blue Note label in 1947, they called his first albums Genius of Modern Music..

Anyway, when I listened to yesterday’s programme on iPlayer I remembered this, a compilation of Monk’s advice to band members (as collected by saxophonist Steve Lacy in 1960). As well as being in places very funny, it also contains a great deal of very sound advice for young musicians (especially the first, `Just because you’re not a DRUMMER, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to KEEP TIME’.

I also like `Don’t play the PIANO PART. I’m playing that.’. I’m sure there’s a story behind every one of these tips!

By way of my own little tribute to Thelonious Monk here’s one of my favourite Monk tunes, as recorded with Milt Jackson on vibes way back in 1948. It’s typically offbeat Monk composition, and also provides great examples of him as a soloist and accompanist. Just listen to what he does behind Milt Jackson’s solo on I Mean You, which appeared on Genius of Modern Music Vol. 1…

 

 

 

Advertisements