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“The Unique Thelonious Monk”

By Julion St Hill

“The Unique Thelonious Monk”

by Bob Heinrichs 

 

* When he's not moonlighting as a writer and enjoying spinning vinyl records, Bob Heinrichs works as an investment manager in the Philadelphia suburbs.

* Photos provided by Bob and edited by Sierre Monk

With both the honor and herculean task of sharing my experience with this classic album, figuring out where to start was quite the feat. So let's start with the most obvious sparkle on the actual cover, Thelonious Monk's portrait on a stamp with a postage price of 33 1/3 cents, and fittingly so, since most records spin at that speed! A very appropriate and timely dimension indeed, for in Monk, we have a man who, perhaps more than most other musicians, represents so much of what America stands for in terms of being an individual, unique -like the album title-, daring to be different and championing ingenuity. And that goes without saying that Monk was a musical pioneer and tremendous creative force who reeled chords and sounds from a piano unlike the world had ever heard before he arrived on the jazz scene. The title is magnified on the album's back cover with the phrase “very personal treatments of jazz standards.” Whenever I listen to Monk’s albums, I always feel that he was simply unable to create anything that wasn’t “very personal”. Listening to these interpretations of old and familiar standards here is nothing short of magical.

Recorded at this time of year back on March 17th and April 3rd 1956 at Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack studio, Monk is joined by Oscar Pettiford (bass) and Art Blakey (drums). While I also enjoy Monk in larger settings, particularly with Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, who seems to intuit Monk’s every move better than most others, smaller trio recordings such as the one on this album nevertheless opens up more ‘space’ for intimacy. The listener can fully experience the “architecture” Monk builds for us to discover alongside him. For example, in "Tea for Two", Monk expands on a very simple melody, which often risks sounding turgid, yet he explores the tune, weaving a web of dissonance that is as surprising as it is revelatory. In the words of the author of the original liner notes, Orrin Keepnews, Monk’s “wry and insidious sense of humor makes itself evident, sharply and sometimes rather devastatingly.” Keepnews makes an incredible point here in that Monk’s playing is always full of a certain sense of humor, as if when he alters a melody or presents a different take on an old standard, we are being invited to share an inside joke with him. I can only imagine that back in the late 1950s, many people weren’t as ready to grasp these types of ‘jokes’. It would have been far easier to label Monk an outsider and a strange one than to take the time and perhaps courage to understand everything he was working to communicate to listeners. Fortunately for us, there were enough forward-thinking folks in the jazz community, who saw past that and embraced Monk for all his quirks and differences!

“Memories of You” is another piece I really enjoyed on this album. Shining as much as in a small trio setting, there is nothing more sensitive and special than hearing an unaccompanied Monk playing a melody, expanding on it as only he can, a wizard all alone with his musical thoughts. And it just wouldn’t be the genuine sorcery of Monk without the occasional dissonant chord thrown in during the melody, or his famous cascades of descending whole-tone scale passages. Needless to say, I've always enjoyed this angular style of playing so much! This piece also reminds me of “Alone In San Francisco”, one of my favorite Monk albums. With a solitary Monk charming those 88 black and white keys, the pieces are tender, delicate and stirring. I could listen to the rapture of his unaccompanied wizardry for hours on end and never grow tired of it. In this regard, I doubt there is any greater sign of a special artist than such an ability to captivate listeners!



“Darn That Dream” closes out the A side with Monk playing with incredible lyricism as he breathes fresh life into a well-worn yet universally beloved melody. In a testament to his abilities, he manages to rearrange this old standard into a piece of music that sounds as if he could have written it himself. Perhaps this is in fact the beauty of Thelonious Monk in that whatever he did was “very personal”; as if he had no choice but to make whatever melody he played sound like his very own! Blakey in turn remains subdued but adds just the right texture while Pettiford takes a short but poignant solo near the end of the tune. Monk returns to restate the melody and ever so delicately play octaves at the very end with such elegance and feel as if it should have always been played this way!

“Just You, Just Me” is a contrasting upbeat and final number on the B side. The trio gets some room to stretch out along the piece's eight minutes. Monk for me is synonymous with a striking use of dissonance and abrupt way of shifting the rhythm through various stops and starts. In this album, however, I love when he latches onto certain rhythms like his clustered chords played over and over in repetitions of syncopated sixteenth notes around 2:35 and again at 4:40 into the tune. Monk’s own voice appears in the recording during these passages as if for emphasis and it sounds as if he were really enjoying himself!

I would be remiss to talk about this record without mentioning the tremendous players Monk has to accompany him here. The full tone of Oscar Pettiford's bass possesses an innate sense that makes him an excellent ensemble player, yet he is also capable of soloing and bridging his own thoughts with some of Monk’s chording in those moments, especially on “Tea For Two”. Drum titan Art Blakey displays remarkably impressive restraint at times on this album, content to play brushes in the background, yet perfectly sensing when to kick it up a few notches.

In short, listening to this diamond of an album was a special treat for me, as Monk breathes fresh life into jazz standards with these ‘very personal treatments.’ This may have well been many people's first time experiencing “The Unique Thelonious Monk”. Riverside had hoped that the concept for this album would help Monk pull in an even larger audience, since standards possessed some familiar elements that could provide a nice starting point. And once listeners allow themselves to open the door and step into Monk's world, those old standards become entirely new destinations that we all can explore and will want to visit again and again!

Be sure to check out some of our other contributing writers by visiting our blog. To read more of Bob Heinrich’s works, visit @bobh812 on Instagram.

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“Melonious Thonk”

By Julion St Hill

“Melonious Thonk”

Each night when Wrong is Right

our darling Thelonious Monk

or

Nellie’s favorite

“Melonious Thonk”

played his Keys like magic

to make Monk’s Melodious

Funk

by Sierre Monk

 

Although we all know and love his philosophies and ideologies, Thelonious Monk’s unique sense of humor should be discussed more often.

 

With an infectious smile and laconic wit, he’d relentlessly joke and stir the pot, especially with family members.

 

According to Monk’s Niece, Evelyn ‘Wee Tee’ Smith, he would tease and troll, “and call you out in front of everyone.”

 

But Nellie was one of the few who would give Monk a taste of his own medicine. She knew exactly how to one-up him. Poke fun at his name.

 

Below is an excerpt from a conversation between Sierre and her Aunt Wee Tee:

Sierre: Was it Melodious Funk or Melodious Thunk?

 

Wee Tee: Melonious Thonk. She was switching the first letters. But writing it, we have to add the H for correct pronunciation purposes.

 

Sierre: So in context, she was basically teasing him/being playful?

 

Wee Tee: Exactly. Or when he was exposing someone for one reason or another, which he did quite often. Aunt Nellie would be embarrassed for the person. And that’s what she’d say.

 

“Oh, Melonious Thonk!” she’d call out, in a sing-songy voice. His teasing would stop and a shy smile would appear. Then big laughter had by all.

And just like that, Nellie’s perfectly timed humor softened Monk’s blunt jibs and most certainly amused those who were lucky enough to witness their special dynamic. With such clever wordplay on a name as compelling as Thelonious Monk, you’d be laughing too.

 

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Crepuscule With Nellie

By Sierre Monk

Crepuscule With Nellie

 


My grandmothers were strong independent women far before Bey was singing about it. Ms. Ev, my paternal grandmother, raised my father alone while also helping to find safe homes and parents for orphans in Kingston, Jamaica. My maternal grandmother, also named Evelyn but went by Skippy, owned her own antique store in manhattan, restoring beautiful pieces and raising my mother on her own.

The woman I learned so much about the world from was not my maternal or paternal grandmothers. She was Skippy’s sister, best friend, and confidant, a world traveler, a holistic healer, and everyone’s go to for company and advice - Nellie Monk was the grandmother I grew up with. She loved me unconditionally and always made me feel wanted and included.

With Ms.Ev in Jamaica, and Skippy having passed in my mother’s teens, I was very blessed to grow up with Nellie in the room next to mine. We spent more time together than I think most kids spend with their grandparents. She was unlike any other person I’ve ever known.

As the baby of the family, hanging out with Nellie made me feel like a big person. It wasn’t just the appeal of hanging with an older wiser individual, rather she spoke to me how she spoke to everyone else. Whether it was my Uncle Toot (her son), the cashier, or her hair dresser we all got the same Nellie.
Nellie was a straight shooter. Everyone got the same version of her, no baby talk, no biting her tongue to soften a blow, just unfiltered honesty. Once you stop treating everyone differently based on age or social standing, you are able to talk about anything and everything.

That’s what Nellie did, and why everyone sought her out. The company she kept was diverse including people from every walk of life. We always had musicians old and new, more than a few aunts cousins and uncles, and neighbors she had met over the years coming in and out of the house. They all just wanted to spend time with her, have some laughs, and seek out a little of her sage unfiltered wisdom.

It was during our backgammon and Yahtzee games or as we split a pack of Reese’s cups that I got the chance to learn about the world from Nellie. We would play and talk for hours. She knew I could listen to her all day given the chance. So she taught me how to listen and deliver a sharp quip. Nellie told me stories about how terribly the canals smelled in Venice (and other anecdotes from abroad), of her adventures with Skippy in their youth and adulthood, and through these and many bits and pieces, about her life.

She spent her childhood working to help support herself and her siblings, traveled the world with her husband, raised two brilliant talented children, and in her seventies and eighties hosted hangs in the room next to mine.

Many a night I wandered in hoping to get my turn at the backgammon board. Invariably my turn would never come but I would stay to feast on all the good gossip. Something a little too juicy would spill and someone would remember me there “Nellie the baby is still in the room”. Just as my heart sank and I remembered I wasn’t one of the big people she would say “don’t worry she’s not even listening” giving me a sly glance.

She would never kick me out, and I was always listening.

 

Written by: Pannonica Val-Hackett

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Google Arts & Culture - Monk at 100

By Julion St Hill

Google Arts & Culture - Monk at 100

“100 years after his birth, Monk continues to be discovered and assimilated into mainstream culture.” - SF Jazz Collective


To commemorate Monk's centennial, explore the "High Priest of Bebop" in this digital exhibit, curated by SF Jazz and presented by Google Arts & Culture. 

Technology has revitalized how musicians record, perform, and distribute music – both in and out of the classroom, in an effort to further music education & promote the legacy of composers like Thelonious Monk

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5 Monk Moods You Need To Live By

By Sierre Monk

5 Monk Moods You Need To Live By

Apply these encouraging affirmations to your daily routine


Be Honest

Strive to come from an organic place by being authentic and true to yourself. If it feels right, it usually is. Walk confidently in your truth. Be transparent with yourself. Don’t spend too much time worrying about the opinions of others, but do recognize that consistency, or lack thereof, directly affects your reputation, and it is the only thing you can control. Do not allow yourself to internalize or give meaning to negative thoughts. Instead, constructively critique yourself. Say and do what you mean so you can make your word your bond, especially for yourself. Exercise your right to say no or to disagree with something and have integrity while doing so. Take a firm stand and be decisive. Grey areas often symbolize confusion or lack of motivation, so be assertive. Have you found your moral compass? Identify and make clear distinctions between what you believe is right and what you believe is wrong. When you are sad or angry about things that you can’t control, avoid self pity, because that shit will solve exactly zero of your problems. Remember, karma is real, bruh.

 


Thelonious Monk Discussing Problem

 

Stay Curious

Question everything. Find the answers. Do your own research and think freely. Read between the lines and color outside of the box. Your potential is limitless. Spread your wings, feed and nurture your mind, see the world. As you journey, don’t stop learning or dreaming. The best way to combat ignorance is through education because knowledge is, in fact, power. Be present. There are rarely any handouts in life so you’re going to have to go out and get what you want or what you feel you deserve. Achieve. Defy your own expectations and break the mental barriers you’ve constructed for yourself. You must be open enough to receive the message. Generally, the popular opinion is irrelevant, so don’t be persuaded to think otherwise. Step out of the matrix and learn to access your third eye. Gotta stay woke.

 


Remain Compassionate

Be kind. Have Grace. Never forget how fragile life is so start your day with a grateful heart. Have respect for every living thing, and remember that materialistic objects mean nothing, because the message is bigger than you. What do you possess that isn’t tangible? Maybe it’s time to revise your list of emotional inventory. We all carry different burdens and worries so try to be the helping hand you’d want assistance from. Practice listening to others more, and talk less. It's possible to find similarities in some of the most seemingly opposite people or situations. Always think beyond yourself and be mindful of life’s ripple effect. Be tender. Have mercy. We are never in a position to judge. Choose your words wisely, and at the very least, try to be the change that you want to see in humanity.

Exist Radiantly


Love yourself fully and wholeheartedly. Don’t apologize for your happiness and don’t tone down your joy because someone else is uncomfortable or envious. Shine bright. You are in control of your personal contentment, no one else has that power. Surround yourself with positivity and don’t let anyone kill your vibe. Outgrow. Evolve. Change is good and absolutely necessary if you're trying to avoid stagnation. You are the company you keep so be selective, some won’t make your final cut. Cardinal Rule: Your squad should only be made up of those who truly love and support you. It’s important to assess the energy that others transfer on to you. Your aura is precious.You deserve all of this good. Be greedy with yourself and know your worth. By doing so, put a high value on your time and don’t allow others to waste it. Take care of yourself and be prideful of your achievements. Trust your intuition. Create boundaries and have a bottom line for things that you won’t tolerate. Protect your heart.

Grandfather and Thelonious Monk

 

Continue Thankfully 


You can’t take anything for granted because each new day is a gift, not a guarantee. Be mindful of how far you’ve come and how you started. Honor those who’ve helped you along in your journey. Pay it forward by mentoring, inspiring, and helping others. Be humble as you count your blessings. Show gratitude. You’ve blossomed into something exquisite, so re-plant the seed that you sprouted from. Give credit to those you owe and pay homage to those you admire. Support. Help. Donate your time and resources to something meaningful and selfless. The best way to say thank you is to cultivate your own legacy.

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Always Know

By Sierre Monk

Always Know

“ Boo-Boo’s most ambitious plan was to establish a scholarship program and a theatrical workshop in Monk’s name...calling it Always Know, Two Is One: The Philosophy of Thelonious Sphere Monk. She hoped this ambitious work would draw links between black migration and settlement in the neighborhood, the struggle for civil and human rights and social justice, and the vision and music of Thelonious Monk. Most importantly, Boo-Boo’s dream was to establish a permanent foundation in her father’s name that could support and oversee these specific projects while keeping Monk’s legacy alive.”

Excerpt from Thelonious Monk, The Life and Times of an American Original, by Robin D. G. Kelley

 

 

Cut it out of your own heart.

 

 

 

 

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Thelonious Monk's 100th Birthday Celebration

By Sierre Monk

Thelonious Monk's 100th Birthday Celebration

 

On Tuesday, October 10th, 2017, the T.S. Monk Sextet opened Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Lincoln Center, in celebration of Thelonious Monk’s centennial birthday. For two consecutive evenings, music lovers and Jazz enthusiasts alike, experienced T.S.’s interpretation of Monk classics, such as ‘Round Midnight’ and ‘In Walked Bud’. In between tunes, listeners were given a rare glimpse inside of the Monk family dynamic, as T.S. fondly recalled charismatic stories about his dad

 

T.S. Monk Sextet (pictured)

Willie Williams, Randall Haywood, April May Webb, Chris Berger, Patience Higgins, Theo Hill

Thelonious Monk 100th Birthday Celebration

T.S. talks growing up Monk

Thelonious Monk Singing

Singer, April May Webb, performs a stunning rendition of ‘Round Midnight’

April May Webb Singing

Pianist, Theo Hill, channels his inner Monk vibes 

Theo Hill Playing Piano

If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn

Willie Williams Playing Trumpet

 

 

 

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Wrong Is Right

By Sierre Monk

Wrong Is Right

 

"Those who always know best are a universal pest" -Piet Hein

Remember when you were in grade school? Let's say 7th period History with Mr. Brown. Maybe it was the end of May, only weeks left until your summer recess, and you were staring out of the window, mindlessly watching the sun bounce shadows off of concrete. Some of your classmates begin to giggle, as you realize an exasperated Mr. Brown has asked you a question about the Industrial Revolution, for the third time. Embarrassed, you open your mouth, yet you don't know the answer. You were caught daydreaming, and now all eyes, including Mr. Brown's no-nonsense pair, are on you. But before you get the chance to speak a syllable, Johnny Know-It-All, your proud teacher's pet, cuts you off with snarky, entitled urgency. A collectively exaggerated pre-teen sigh circulates the room and someone from the back sarcastically asks if Johnny Know-It-All wants a biscuit. As the bell abruptly chimes, signaling the end of the school day, students begin to quickly shuffle out of the door. Out of the corner of your eye, you watch the bully kid from the back waltz over to where Johnny is neatly packing up his notes, pencils and such. Bully Kid shoves all of Johnny Know-ItAll's belongings to the floor with ease. Your feelings of embarrassment have gently washed away, replaced with mild satisfaction You smirk quietly to yourself while thinking, no one likes a know it all.

 

Thelonious Monk Eating Apple

"Wrong is right" -Thelonious Monk

While contemplating what to write for this particular blog post, I had an interesting conversation with my father. I was sitting outside, reading, he was also outside wrapping up an over-the-phone interview. I've always liked to listen to my dad talk, his animated way of speaking being a cathartic release for me. The journalist wanted to know what my dad thought about the importance of a musicians ability to read and write sheet music, and how that process influences the artists creativity when composing. While answering the question but looking directly at me, my dad began to tell a story about Monk. Decades ago, there was a certain jazz pianist, also African-American, whom most would consider to be one of Monk's contemporaries. But unlike my grand father, this man did not read sheet music, nor did he write down his compositions. This was not the norm for the era, and many critics considered his music to be inferior, as such, and wrong. When asked his opinion, on the talent or lack-there-of, regarding "the man who can't read sheet music", Monk's answer was simple, clear and perfect. Wrong is right.

 

"What I learned is that it's arrogant to be certain of anything" -Lisa Gardner

 

When I think about how Wrong is right speaks to me, how I internalize Monk's simple words and break down the meaning in my psyche, my deepest thought is authenticity. Look, I'm an older millennial. #80sBaby90sRaisedMe. Like most of my peers, considering the current politically, socially and racially tense climate and history of our country, Wrong is right means f*ck the system. Rebel. Stick it to the Man. Resist. On the superficial forefront of my conscience, I interpret Wrong is right to be the equivalent of an open mind. To not sweat the small stuff. To not take myself so seriously. To be light of tongue and heart. But when I dig deep, pulling back the layers of my personality like an onion, and as I critically think, the meaning of Wrong is right reveals itself in my innermost thoughts. It's as if a flashing, neon display light has been plugged in my brain, those three little words written clearly and boldly, almost vibrating with intensity. Always be your authentic self, because you are good enough. It is so much easier to pretend to be something that you are not. Sometimes, and this is when it gets really scary, we create such a strong facade, while expertly masking our true selves, at which point we become disoriented and lose track of who we really are. As you look, the face in the mirror may be the same but the soul is truly unrecognizable.

 

"There are no wrong notes, some are just more right than others" -Thelonious Monk

 

So now I'm lost, I don't really know who I am, but I know what society wants me to be. How do I find myself again? Congratulations, you made it to the other side. The first step is to smash those rose colored glasses, and now, behold! Your vision is clear. Well, for starters, the process of self-enlightenment is slow, painful and exhausting. It can take years, maybe a lifetime and it's gotta be organic. You know that quote, heavily recycled and reused, the one about the wolf and the sheep. A century ago, whoever first wrote it down, read it, or applied it to his/her troubles or problems must've felt empowered, maybe even prophetic. But thanks to social media and pop culture, I'm sure you can scroll down your Instagram feed at this moment, and see the quote slapped on some stupid un-relatable meme. And isn't it ironic that if you cut the fluff and bullshit, ignore the likes and reposts, the fundamental message behind the wolf and the sheep will resonate with you today. Especially, say, if you're on a path towards self-discovery and the acknowledgement of the ideology that Wrong is right. Trust the process, but most importantly, trust yourself. Someone else's opinion honestly has nothing to do with you, be it constructive or negative. I'm on the same journey, maybe I've had a small head start, but I'm right next to you, putting one foot in front of the other. I am not Johnny, I don't know all of the answers, nor do I want to interrupt you. But from experience, I can tell you with confidence to try to always be kind to yourself, to suffocate any self-sabotaging thoughts before they manifest, to be exactly who you are and who you want to be, unapologetically, and that Wrong Is Right.

Thelonious Monk Started Attending Functions

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