Friday, January 17, 2014

Thelonious Monk - Greatest introduction to a jazz giant

Thelonious Sphere Monk (October 10, 1917 – February 17, 1982) was an American jazz pianist and composer, considered one of the giants of American music. Monk had a unique improvisational style and made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire, including "Epistrophy", "'Round Midnight", "Blue Monk", "Straight, No Chaser" and "Well, You Needn't". Monk is the second-most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, which is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed over 1,000 songs while Monk wrote about 70.

His compositions and improvisations are full of dissonant harmonies and angular melodic twists, and are consistent with Monk's unorthodox approach to the piano, which combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of silences and hesitations. This style was not universally appreciated, shown for instance in poet and jazz critic Philip Larkin's dismissal of Monk as "the elephant on the keyboard". 

Visually, he was renowned for his distinctive style in suits, hats and sunglasses. He was also noted for the fact that at times, while the other musicians in the band continued playing, he would stop, stand up from the keyboard and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano. He is one of five jazz musicians to have been featured on the cover of Time, after Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, and Duke Ellington, and before Wynton Marsalis.

This collection serves as an introduction only to Monk's enormous body of work. See below for a sample more of his recordings.

1 Well You Needn't (live) 12:42
2 Misterioso 9:46
3 Bemsha Swing 4:14
4 'Round Midnight (Take 2) 3:51
5 Epistrophy 2:27
6 Ruby, My Dear5:42
7 Crepuscule With Nellie 2:46
8 Blue Monk 11:18
9 Straight, No Chaser 11:30

As influential as he proved to be during the final decades of his lifetime, it appears that Monk has only gained greater stature in the years since his death. Once considered too eccentric and complex to be appreciated by listeners and other musicians, Monk has become a standard of excellence, as both composer and soloist, for those who seek to extend the jazz tradition in the current age.