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  1. #1

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    I think Robin D.G. Kelley's Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (2009, Free Press) to be one of the finest biographies of a jazz musician I've read. Mr. Kelley's research is exhaustive, and Monk is neither exhalted nor demonized, but humanized (as is his family and peer jazz greats and near-greats). It is eminently readable (small print warning, though), so much so I've been through it maybe 10 times now, and it never gets old.

    Just started Leslie Gourse's Straight, No Chaser: The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk (1998, Schirmer Trade). It looks promising, too.

    I recommend both.

    Let the thread go where it will about Monk the musician...

    https://www.amazon.com/Thelonious-Mo.../dp/1439190461

    https://www.amazon.com/s?k=theloniou...ref=nb_sb_noss

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  3. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by joelf
    I think Robin D.G. Kelley's Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (2009, Free Press) to be one of the finest biographies of a jazz musician I've read. Mr. Kelley's research is exhaustive, and Monk is neither exhalted nor demonized, but humanized (as is his family and peer jazz greats and near-greats). It is eminently readable (small print warning, though), so much so I've been through it maybe 10 times now, and it never gets old.

    Just started Leslie Gourse's Straight, No Chaser: The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk (1998, Schirmer Trade). It looks promising, too.
    I agree with Joel about the Kelley and Gourse books. I also liked Robert Dobbin's translation of Thomas Fitterling's Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music and the collection edited by my former colleague Rob van der Bliek, The Thelonious Monk Reader. Also, and perhaps above all, Bruce Ricker's documentary, Straight , No Chaser, which I hope is still available on DVD.

  4. #3

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    have the gourse book since it was issued...pretty good/entertaining with the historical facts and events, but a bit naive overall...the authors a bit too "straight"(no chaser) to have a full understanding of an iconoclast like monk

    the best monk bio? his early blue note recordings say it all!!




    cheers

  5. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by joelf
    I think Robin D.G. Kelley's Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (2009, Free Press) to be one of the finest biographies of a jazz musician I've read. Mr. Kelley's research is exhaustive, and Monk is neither exhalted nor demonized, but humanized (as is his family and peer jazz greats and near-greats). It is eminently readable (small print warning, though), so much so I've been through it maybe 10 times now, and it never gets old.

    Just started Leslie Gourse's Straight, No Chaser: The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk (1998, Schirmer Trade). It looks promising, too.

    I recommend both.

    Let the thread go where it will about Monk the musician...

    https://www.amazon.com/Thelonious-Mo.../dp/1439190461


    https://www.amazon.com/s?k=theloniou...ref=nb_sb_noss
    Robin D.G. Kelley's biography is exemplary. There must have been something I disliked about Leslie Gourse's book as I sold it sometime ago. From memory, it had a cursory, journalistic feel and the best thing about it was the description of tunes in the appendix. I nearly kept my copy for that reason alone but Kelley does a fine job in that department as well. I was lucky to find a cheap DVD of Bruce Ricker/Charlotte Zwerin's film, Straight No Chaser recently and it's as good as I remember it with some unforgettable footage of Monk.

  6. #5

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    Monk biogs and general thread-monk-blindfold-test-jpg

  7. #6

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    ^ that was great!! and exactly what i meant as iconoclast monk!!^

    thanks david b...great artifact!

    charlie christian spoiled him for all other guitarists!! haha

    cheers

    ps- i believe the very first recorded 'evidence" of monk was with charlie christian...and don byas...1941

  8. #7
    Just started the Gourse. I may end up agreeing with yiz, who knows?. We shall see, and I'll give it a chance. So far not at all bad.

    Off-topic, but related: Lush Life (David Hajdu), about Strayhorn, is IMO also one of the finest I've read...

  9. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by pcjazz
    Also, and perhaps above all, Bruce Ricker's documentary, Straight , No Chaser, which I hope is still available on DVD.
    DId Bruce Ricker produce that? It was a Charlotte Zwerin film. My friend Bernadine Colish, who worked a lot with Zwerin, was the music editor.

    It's still available, and generous portions are on youtube...

  10. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by David B
    Monk biogs and general thread-monk-blindfold-test-jpg
    I remember that blindfold test. A classic, and it cracked me up. Monk wouldn't cooperate and did it his way, leaving Feather flustered.

    And I was surprised and delighted to find this:


  11. #10

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    great clip..monk is in his own hip beautiful world...a true artist..hes zen

    but, the pain of hand held mic interviews!! ugh

    cheers

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by joelf
    DId Bruce Ricker produce that? It was a Charlotte Zwerin film. My friend Bernadine Colish, who worked a lot with Zwerin, was the music editor.

    It's still available, and generous portions are on youtube...
    Zwerin directed it and co-produced with Ricker; Clint Eastwood was exec producer. A great film.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by joelf
    I think Robin D.G. Kelley's Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (2009, Free Press) to be one of the finest biographies of a jazz musician I've read. Mr. Kelley's research is exhaustive, and Monk is neither exhalted nor demonized, but humanized (as is his family and peer jazz greats and near-greats). It is eminently readable (small print warning, though), so much so I've been through it maybe 10 times now, and it never gets old.
    I think that Kelley's book is one of the very best biographies I have ever read. His research is impeccable, his writing is readable and he does an admirable job of placing Monk in context both in his personal life as well as his role in jazz (and how his personal and professional life intersected). It's really an exemplary piece of work in my opinion.

    The other one I was not aware of and will keep an eye out for it.

    As for Monk the musician, I have always found him difficult. Maybe other people can listen to him easily but I find it necessary to mull over and chew on to try to come to any understanding (Except for Round Midnight). I thought that perhaps Miles Okazaki's rendering of 70 Monk pieces might make him more accessible to me, bringing it down to one instrument that I understand well. No such luck! Monk is still a puzzle to me. I don't know that there has been a knottier composer and musician in all of jazz. And Miles O did not go out of his way to try to make Monk any easier; his performance of those pieces is stark and almost brutal in it's nakedness. I don't think I would've had the guts which is probably one of many reasons why Miles is a great guitarist and I am not.

  14. #13

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    Try listening to Monk on solo piano, I find this a good way to hear his compositions. Thelonious Alone In San Francisco is a good one, they recorded him on a decent piano in a hall with nice acoustics:

    Last edited by grahambop; 02-29-2020 at 08:16 AM.

  15. #14

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    On guitar I like Peter Bernstein’s ‘Monk’ record, he gets a nice balance of melodic playing while retaining some of Monk’s ‘knottiness’. Unfortunately I don’t think it is available currently, the record label folded or something.

    There are a few videos of him playing Monk tunes on YouTube however.

  16. #15

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    Another favourite of mine, Steve Lacy ‘Reflections’. The pianist is Mal Waldron.


  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    Try listening to Monk on solo piano, I find this a good way to hear his compositions. Thelonious Alone In San Francisco is a good one, they recorded him on a decent piano in a hall with nice acoustics:

    That’s beautiful. As you all probably know, Pannonica was Ms. de Koenigswarter, who was his patron and muse as well as Charlie Parker’s. One hears echoes of Debussy in that, as well as Art Tatum, and it sounds like it might have influenced Bill Evans among others.

    The only Monk album I have is Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Monk...I haven’t listened to it for awhile, but as I recall it is eminently entertaining and approachable.

    I came across this quote about Monk in later life, when he was probably struggling from mental illness (and/or over-medicated):

    Bassist Al McKibbon, who had known Monk for over twenty years and played on his final tour in 1971, later said: "On that tour, Monk said about two words. I mean literally maybe two words. He didn't say 'Good morning,' 'Goodnight,' 'What time?' Nothing. Why, I don't know. He sent word back after the tour was over that the reason he couldn't communicate or play was that Art Blakey and I were so ugly."

  18. #17

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    Monk is sort of like jazz, but with improvements.

    that interview is brilliant. Feather was such a square haha

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    On guitar I like Peter Bernstein’s ‘Monk’ record, he gets a nice balance of melodic playing while retaining some of Monk’s ‘knottiness’. Unfortunately I don’t think it is available currently, the record label folded or something.

    There are a few videos of him playing Monk tunes on YouTube however.
    this is a very good record.

    you know Peter is massively influenced by Monk. I think his solo playing has that ugly beauty in it. This elevates it for me, so much pretty guitar music out there. It cuts through to something more essential.

    i think very many of the genius musicians have some almost anti musical/raw or almost awkward aspect to them which makes them super musical if that makes any sense - Beethoven, Dylan, Lennon, Bjork, Miles, Maria Callas and Monk...

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    this is a very good record.

    you know Peter is massively influenced by Monk.
    I managed to find this track on YouTube from his ‘Monk’ record:


  21. #20

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    the great bobby broom has a nice recording of monk tunes- plays for monk

    here's in walked bud



    cheers

  22. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    Another favourite of mine, Steve Lacy ‘Reflections’. The pianist is Mal Waldron.

    Then there's the pianoless all-Monk session w/Lacy and the late Charles Davis. Will post later...

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by joelf
    Just started the Gourse. I may end up agreeing with yiz, who knows?. We shall see, and I'll give it a chance. So far not at all bad.

    Off-topic, but related: Lush Life (David Hajdu), about Strayhorn, is IMO also one of the finest I've read...
    Yes, the Hadju's very good and this more analytical survey of Strayhorn's work looks like a worthwhile addition:

    https://www.amazon.com/Something-Liv...3007182&sr=8-1

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    this is a very good record.

    you know Peter is massively influenced by Monk. I think his solo playing has that ugly beauty in it. This elevates it for me, so much pretty guitar music out there. It cuts through to something more essential.

    i think very many of the genius musicians have some almost anti musical/raw or almost awkward aspect to them which makes them super musical if that makes any sense - Beethoven, Dylan, Lennon, Bjork, Miles, Maria Callas and Monk...
    My thoughts exactly and a great list! There's a real sense of struggle with both PB and Monk - you can hear it in their hesitation of attack (almost surgical once it arrives) and the way they both grunt along with their improvisations.

  25. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by PMB
    Yes, the Hadju's very good and this more analytical survey of Strayhorn's work looks like a worthwhile addition:

    https://www.amazon.com/Something-Liv...3007182&sr=8-1
    Thanks for mentioning that. I have the van de Leur also. A must have for any serious Strayhorn devotee...

  26. #25
    Some props for Peter Leitch, with Off Minor:


  27. #26

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    ^ leitch was/is such a treasure..so sad that ill health has plagued him...not just a great player, but a great composer...& beyond just guitar music! he writes & arranges jazz music!!

    cheers

  28. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by neatomic
    ^ leitch was/is such a treasure..so sad that ill health has plagued him...not just a great player, but a great composer...& beyond just guitar music! he writes & arranges jazz music!!

    cheers
    He's still writing.

    Good photographer, too...

  29. #28
    50 pages into the Gourse. Nothing wrong with it really, but it's barely holding my attention. To be fair, I got the facts from the Kelley, so no slam on Gourse, but nothing new.

    Kelley has the goods---a masterful work. You may want to go with that one...

  30. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by joelf
    50 pages into the Gourse. Nothing wrong with it really, but it's barely holding my attention. To be fair, I got the facts from the Kelley, so no slam on Gourse, but nothing new.

    Kelley has the goods---a masterful work. You may want to go with that one...
    in all fairness, gourse book was out years before kelleys...sure latter was influenced by it!!

    as a student of history, i also realize, that often the biographies closest in time to the subject are the more accurate...time has a way of twisting perspective...you may believe it or not! haha

    cheers

  31. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by neatomic
    in all fairness, gourse book was out years before kelleys...sure latter was influenced by it!!

    as a student of history, i also realize, that often the biographies closest in time to the subject are the more accurate...time has a way of twisting perspective...you may believe it or not! haha

    cheers
    When you're dealing with a Monk, just remember history is written by the vicars...

  32. #31
    I'm liking it more. The last few chapters are very good, with interviews w/people Kelley didn't get to, like Larry Ridley (well, hewas in the Life and Times, but this is more in-depth).

    (And I've never been celebrated for my patience)...

  33. #32

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    Monk features heavily in the 2009 documentary 'The Jazz Baroness', about the life of Pannonica "Nica" de Koenigswarter. Made by her great niece Hannah Rothschild, with Helen Mirren narrating Nica's words. A good film, available on DVD and online rental. I daresay there are some clips on YouTube.

  34. #33

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    Quote Originally Posted by David B
    Monk features heavily in the 2009 documentary 'The Jazz Baroness', about the life of Pannonica "Nica" de Koenigswarter. Made by her great niece Hannah Rothschild, with Helen Mirren narrating Nica's words. A good film, available on DVD and online rental. I daresay there are some clips on YouTube.

  35. #34
    Quote Originally Posted by David B
    I've seen this, it was quite good.

    I was in that house, helping Barry with a concert (and in Monk's room, too---another story for another day). Nica was still alive, but elsewhere that day (in 1983). It's really true about the cats. An endless stream, and I'm allergic!...

  36. #35

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  37. #36

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    great solo acoustic (nylon) take of monks- well you needn't

    (obscure) bill harris-1950's



    cheers

  38. #37
    Quote Originally Posted by neatomic
    great solo acoustic (nylon) take of monks- well you needn't

    (obscure) bill harris-1950's



    cheers
    Wow----thought it was gonna be the trombone player on Woody's band. Never heard of this guy. Good player for sure. Thanks...

  39. #38

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    Frisell Haden Baker


  40. #39

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    Mike Neer's Steelonious is well worth hearing. Mike interprets Monk through the lens of multiple steel guitar genres.

    Mike Neer | Steelonious | CD Baby Music Store

  41. #40

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    Quote Originally Posted by neatomic
    great solo acoustic (nylon) take of monks- well you needn't

    bill harris
    Great stuff - had to ask the internet who he was but...

    I restarted the Kelly book when I was around 200 pages in so I could listen to the music being discussed as it came up, been listening to Monk since I bought the Blue Note double album when I was 16, got the Gourse book on order.

    Gary Wittner's 'Monk For Guitar' is waiting for to to man up...

  42. #41

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  43. #42

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    Quote Originally Posted by David B
    Monk features heavily in the 2009 documentary 'The Jazz Baroness', about the life of Pannonica "Nica" de Koenigswarter. Made by her great niece Hannah Rothschild, with Helen Mirren narrating Nica's words. A good film, available on DVD and online rental. I daresay there are some clips on YouTube.
    I like the scene in the dressing room where Nica says 'I've got you a present'

    Monk says 'is it money ? she's a millionairess you know'

    & Nica gives him a pen...

    She of course did a tremendous amount for Monk & many others, her book 'Three wishes' is good too...