Thelonious Monk
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1917-10-10
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Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk Biography (BBC)

Famous as an eccentric, both for his unorthodox appearance, and the spiky individuality of his melodies, Thelonious Monk was one of the most dominant influences on the 1940s modern jazz, or bebop, revolution. He introduced numerous unusual harmonic ideas into jazz, and through his playing at Minton's club in New York, where he was the house pianist, he jammed with many of the architects of the new music - including drummer Kenny Clarke and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.

Born in the South, he had grown up in New York, playing in Harlem, and then accompanying a travelling gospel singer, before becoming a regular part of the New York jazz scene as a sideman with numerous bands. He came to widespread attention as a member of Coleman Hawkins's band in 1944-5, briefly joined Dizzy Gillespie's big band in 1946 and the following year began his own recording career.

His first discs for Alfred Lion's Blue Note label were distinctive and original and announced the arrival of a new talent - but unfortunately they did not sell particularly well. But two producers who were equally visionary as Lion, Bob Weinstock at Prestige and Orrin Keepnews at Riverside records, continued to record Monk through the 1950s, capturing the flowering of his talent.

In due course he signed to Columbia records for the duration of the 1960s. In the 70s he made a few recordings, toured with an all star group including Gillespie called the Giants of Jazz, and gradually disappeared from public view, ending his life in seclusion. His piano style was jaunty, percussive and highly unusual, using almost no aspects of classical technique.

Nevertheless, it was highly effective, both visually and aurally, and has been an influence on many subsequent players. Equally, several of Monk's compositions have entered the mainstream of jazz, from ballads such as Round Midnight to his more unusual numbers Brilliant Corners, Epistrophy, Eronel, Evidence, Hackensack, Misterioso, Ruby My Dear, Straight No Chaser, and Thelonious.

For most of his last two decades as an active musician he led a quartet of saxophone, piano, bass and drums, and his music is preserved today by the group Sphere, with similar line-up and Kenny Barron taking the piano parts. Monk's son, T.S. Monk, is a well-known drummer who has been extremely active in establishing the Thelonious Monk Foundation in memory of his father.

Thelonious Monk Biography (Wikipedia)

Thelonious Sphere Monk (, October 10, 1917 – February 17, 1982) was an American jazz pianist and composer. He had a unique improvisational style and made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire, including "'Round Midnight", "Blue Monk", "Straight, No Chaser", "Ruby, My Dear", "In Walked Bud", and "Well, You Needn't". Monk is the second-most-recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, which is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed more than a thousand pieces, whereas Monk wrote about 70.

Monk's compositions and improvisations feature dissonances and angular melodic twists and are consistent with his unorthodox approach to the piano, which combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of switched key releases, silences, and hesitations. His style was not universally appreciated; the poet and jazz critic Philip Larkin dismissed him as "the elephant on the keyboard".

Monk was renowned for a distinct look which included suits, hats, and sunglasses. He was also noted for an idiosyncratic habit during performances: while other musicians continued playing, Monk would stop, stand up, and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano.

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Thelonious Monk Performances & Interviews


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