Thelonious Sphere Monk's gnarly yet expressive touch at the piano along with his sometimes off kilter but enduring compositions gave us a whole new way to appreciate jazz.
Monk clearly had a startlingly unique approach to music. But, in his own taciturn way, he also spun words to unusual effect. In a verbal turnaround reminiscent of a Zen koan, he once told bandmate Steve Lacy, “You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?” It's hard to imagine any other response to Monk than "I dig."
Oct. 10 is the birthday of the iconic jazz pianist, composer and bandleader, who would have been 96. To mark that occasion, here are the top 10 reasons to dig him even more, in reverse order.
10. The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, established to honour the memory of the artist and to promote up-and-coming jazz talent, operates the most prestigious jazz competition in the world. This biennial playoff rotates among instrumentalists and singers and has helped launch the careers of past winners Gretchen Parlato, Seamus Blake, Jacky Terrasson and others.
9. Monk helped invent bebop. Along with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke, Monk subverted the comfortable sound of the swing era to produce a sophisticated new style that carried jazz into the decades ahead.
8. Monk helped put some of the enormous Rothschild fortune to good use through the support he received from the wealthy heiress, Pannonica de Koenigswarter. In return, Monk composed the tune Pannonica for her.
7. Monk knew how to reshape a standard with his own unique sound.
6. Monk offered simple yet profound tips for the working musician, including, “Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.”
5. The man knew hats: strange hats, wonderful hats and a hat that appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. There is at least one blog dedicated to his choice of lids.
4. Monk helped bring his musical son, Thelonious Sphere Monk, III, (a.k.a. T.S. Monk) into the world. After a charting pop hit in the '80s that was later extensively sampled by hip-hop artists, T.S. Monk refocused his career on jazz.
3. Many of Monk's album covers were masterworks in their own right. The cover to Monk's 1968 Columbia release, Underground, earned the designer, John Berg, a Grammy.
2. With compositions like "Epistrophy" and "Crepuscule with Nellie," Monk sends us to the record player and the dictionary for some vocab building while we dig the music.
1. He composed "'Round Midnight" when he was 19. It's the most widely recorded jazz tune in history, with more than 1,000 versions committed to disc. 'Nuff said.
Follow Michael Juk on Twitter @CBCMichaelJuk.
on Oct 10, 2013