Thelonious Monk has been quoted (in an essay called “Thelonious Monk: Portrait of the Artist as an Enigma,” from The Thelonious Monk Reader) as saying “let’s not talk about music, let’s play it.”

Of course, we seldom do as we say, and instead do as we do. Monk was a good case in point. He was a man who spoke his mind, eccentric – or brilliant or cranky – as it may have been in the moment.

Monk died 30 years ago this February, and one of the Monkish mementos being passed around from jazz fan to jazz fan is a list of advice Monk gave.

These axioms – bits of whimsy, passing thoughts etc. – were written down by another musician who had his enigmatic, and brilliant, side as well: saxophonist Steve Lacy. Some are banal, some are inspired; all seem very Monk.

Thelonius Monk’s advice

-“Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.”

-“Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head, when you play.”

-“Stop playing all those wierd [sic] notes (that bullshit), play the melody!”

-“Make the drummer sound good.”

-“Discrimination is important.”

-“You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?”


-“Always know… (MONK)”

-“It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn’t need the lights.”

-“Let’s lift the bandstand!”

-“I want to avoid the hecklers.”

-“Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that. Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you!”

-“The inside of the tune [the bridge] is the part that makes the outside sound good.”

-“Don’t play everything [or every time]; let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important that what you do.”

-“A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.”

-“Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, and when it comes, he’s out of shape and can’t make it.”

-“When you’re swinging, swing some more.”

-(“What should we wear tonight? Sharp as possible!”) 

-“Always leave them wanting more.”

-“Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene. These pieces were written so as to have something to play and get cats interested enough to come to rehearsal.”

-“You’ve got it! If you don’t want to play, tell a joke or dance, but in any case, you got it!” [To a drummer who didn’t want to solo.]

-“Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself.”

-“They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along and spoil it.”

Related Links:

See Steve Lacy's handwritten transcription of Monk's advice at the blog, Heck of a Guy

J is for Jazz: B is for Bebop

Watch Thelonious Monk playing "Round Midnight"



posted by Li Robbins on Feb 28, 2012