Thelonious Monk – Day 29

365 Days of Music Appreciation

Thelonious Monk
1917-1982
MonkStyle – Jazz, Bebop, Piano
Achievements: Grammy Hall of Fame, Pulizter Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts, Featured on the Cover of Life (1 of only 5 Jazz artists ever featured)

There’s been none before and there will never be another quite like him. His music was brilliant, groundbreaking and instrumental in one of the most amazing evolutionary moments in music history. Thelonious Monk is the iconic picture of a true Jazz Artist. Known for his hip style of suits, hats and sunglasses, he not only looked the part but set a whole new standard of style when it came to playing.

Monk’s style of playing is extremely unique. While there are hints of other influences such as Duke Ellington and surprisingly Nat King Cole, who would often use subtle dissonance in his somewhat percussive yet flowing piano playing, there’s really no good comparison to the amazing skill and touch of Monk. His playing would float through the extremes, from strong percussive attacks, to dramatic rests and breaks, his melodic form and improvisation would take unsuspecting turns in structure that draw you along a meandering journey into the amazing. When talking about his piano playing most people immediately point to his harmonic dissonance. He was able to take notes that shouldn’t be played together simultaneously and not only make it work, but make it sound good.

As a composer, Thelonious Monk is one of the greatest geniuses of the piano the world has ever seen. While the majority of Jazz music is all about spontaneous expression and “improvisation,” a term used for when the musician plays live compositions of melodies and musical riffs that are structured around the chord changes, Monk was not only able to create amazing “on the spot” sounds, but he composed masterpieces that would go on to be permanent fixtures of Jazz. His songs are so impacting that he’s become one of the most recorded jazz composers of all time. Having written nearly 70 songs, he is second only to Duke Ellington who wrote over 1,000. In fact, Thelonious Monk is the composer of one of my favorite songs of all time, ‘Round Midnight.

Thelonious Monk never quite hit the same level of fame or accolade that his fellow peers such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie or Charlie Parker did, but he was a King among giants who has forever impacted and shaped music. He is the very epitome of genius at the piano, a composer who could turn melodies upside down and craft songs with dynamic chord progressions that to this day stand apart from nearly everything else that’s come before or after. He broke the rules and created new ones, reminding us of the infinite possibilities that are present within only 12 notes.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Monk. It was a black and white album cover with this cool looking guy sitting at the piano. Like many of the other albums in my Grandpa’s collection, I could almost feel the electricity emanating from the record when I picked it out. I felt like Indiana Jones as I picked up what I thought just had to be a rare treasure. I honestly knew nothing at all about who this Monk dude was. In fact, I remember thinking, “he doesn’t look like a monk.” Nevertheless, it was a profoundly religious experience. When I heard him play I felt like everything I ever knew about music was just thrown out the window. To be honest, I almost felt like I could never play the piano at all. This guy was doing things I didn’t even know were possible. I listened to that album over and over that day and begged to take it home with me. I remember shortly afterwards, I hunted through every record store in town, taking the bus, walking, picking up the phone and calling around trying desperately to find a poster of him that I could put up on the wall. Thelonious Monk was an icon who set the standard for what it truly means to be a musical artist. Thelonious Monk is easily one of the greatest Piano players and jazz composers of all time.

[Lulu’s back in town]

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