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Thelonious Monk

(1917 – 1982)

Thelonious Monk, American pianist and composer who was among the first creators of modern jazz.

Monk grew up in a multi-ethnic area in Manhattan and there amongst folks from the Caribbean he leart the rudiments of boogie woogie or stride piano. He toured as an evangelist muysician and was known for dancing. As the pianist in the band at Minton’s Playhouse, a nightclub in New York City, in the early 1940s, Monk had great influence on the other musicians who later developed the bebop movement. For much of his career, Monk performed and recorded with small groups. His playing was percussive and sparse, often being described as “angular,” and he used complex and dissonant harmonies and unusual intervals and rhythms. Monk’s music was known for its humorous, almost playful, quality. He was also one of the most prolific composers in the history of jazz. Many of his compositions, which were generally written in the 12-bar blues or the 32-bar ballad form, became jazz standards. Among his best-known works are “Well, You Needn’t,” “I Mean You,” “Straight, No Chaser,” “Criss-Cross,” “Mysterioso,” “Epistrophy,” “Blue Monk,” and “Round Midnight.” He influenced the flavour of much modern jazz, notably the work of George Russell, Randy Weston, and Cecil Taylor.

Monks originality, his unique musicality and his profound disinterest in playing by any rules led him to often difficult but in other ways an exemplary career. His Live from the Town Hall Concert with arrangements in collaboration with Hall Overton has been called the greatest live recording of all time and has inspired an incredible show by contemporary pianist Jason Moran.

Straight No Chaser a documentary began in 1962 and completed by Clint Eastwood in the late 80s is a wonderful glimpse into Monk’s world. Even comedian Dave Chapelle has said that his timing as a comedian owes much to Monk.

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