Monk’s Way

He was eccentric. He was unconventional. He wore shades and funny hats. He was one of the most influential and groundbreaking jazz pianists of all time. He was the legendary mad genius of bebop, Thelonious Monk. Alternately revered and misunderstood, Monk is the embodiment of a musical innovator. During the first half of his career the public, and even many critics, wanted little to do with Thelonious Monk. Perplexing, erratic, seemingly unbeholden to all musical conventions, Monk’s piano playing was far too idiosyncratic and unorthodox for most people to digest. Only Monk’s esteemed peers, like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Coleman Hawkins, appreciated his unique gifts.

Although Monk had been playing steady gigs in New York nightclubs throughout the 1940s, such as Minton’s in Harlem, a 1951 narcotics arrest caused a serious setback in his career. Monk refused to testify against his good friend and fellow jazz pianist Bud Powell. (The stuff was Bud’s, but Monk took the rap for him). As punishment, Thelonious Monk was stripped of his cabaret card, thus banning him from performing in New York clubs for many years.

But after paying his dues both personally and professionally, Thelonious Monk’s long-awaited recognition finally came in 1957, with a triumphant six month residency at the Five Spot Cafe on Cooper Square. The quartet included the great John Coltrane on tenor sax. Those historic gigs marked the turning point in Monk’s career.

To listen to Monk play the piano is to be in a state of glorious bewilderment; the percussive hitting of the keys, the long note-free gaps and pauses, the dissonant chords, the fits and starts, the spontaneity and strange rhythms. It is not cacophony. It is pure creative invention.

For “Music Monday”, this is Thelonious Monk performing his signature composition Round Midnight. A true American original.

9 thoughts on “Monk’s Way

  1. What a great post! I couldn’t have said it better myself. I really enjoyed the video. Funny about Monk — his playing sounds so disjointed, and it is, compared to the more fluid lines of Bud Powell and the hardboppers that came later like Wynton Kelly and Sonny Clark — but his time is right in the pocket, He never drops a beat and he’s right in the center of the time. Great to see him play.

    • artmodel says:


      I watched the video again after reading your comment just to pay closer attention to Monk’s time. You’re so right. He’s got it covered perfectly.

      So glad you enjoyed this video and post. There’s more Monk on YouTube. I love Powell too.

      Thanks keith!


  2. dougrogers says:

    music with space in it.

  3. Fred says:

    Monk’s wife Nellie (of “Crepuscule with Nellie”) described his style as “melodious thunk”. Perfect.

  4. Grand post and grand video choice, Claudia. It’s funny, I remember listening to Monk, et al, at the 5 spot, usually after hours, in the late late fiftys-early sixties, -but I’ve no memories of how the 5 spot itself was set up. I guess it was really all about the music.

  5. violinhunter says:

    For me, this is like seeing Heifetz live, which I never did – he died too young.

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