THE FUNERAL OF THELONIOUS MONK
By Ted Joans
From Coda Magazine (April 1982)
"Man, you ever hear about a guy named Thelonious Monk? When I first heard that music, understood everything! ... ..
‑ Steve McCall, Code 1982
The month of February is a big birthdate month for many worthy poets and writers. Starting with Langston Hughes on the first of February and James Joyce on the second, then the list has Bill Burroughs, Gert Stein, Anais Nin, Don L. Lee, Brecht, W.E.B. DuBois, Charles Henri Ford, Ish Reed, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Audrey Lorde, Melvin B. Tolson, Andre Breton, and many marvelous others (Let's Call ThislThink Of One).
On February Seventeen the day before Andre Breton's 1982 birthdate, Thelonious Sphere Monk who was born in October 1917 cut out from the earthly scene leaving us with all the music that he created (Bye‑Ya/Raise Four).
Monk was one of the unique individuals of the classical music that we all call by its nickname, jazz. He lived his music as natural as a bird flies, as private as a pangolin wears sharp scales and as un‑weird as two okapis in the Ituri Forest (Boo Boo's Birthday/Who Knows).
The funeral service held on Monday, February 22, at 11:00 a.m. at Saint Peter's Church was a Monk musical ritual where libations to the deceased poured forth. In the best traditional African respect was the offering of the royal drummer Max Roach's splendid drum prayer to Monk and not to some pie‑in‑the‑sky god. (Straight No Chaser/Thelonious).
Randy Weston paid his homage to his worthy monarch teacher by allowing his fingers to weep and shout on the keyboard and afterwards speaking briefly at the microphone about the truth of such a man as Monk (Epistrophy/ Crepescule With Nellie).
The incredible modern abstract building at 54th Street and Lexington Avenue in midtown Manhattan that houses Saint Peter's Church (Ugly beauty/Friday The 13th) was packed with people, a marvelous mob for Monk, even a few non‑mourners were standing in the back digging the scene (Criss Cross/lMean You). As we approached the architectural wonder on the busy corner (Green Chimneys/Jackie‑ing) a sleek hearse and flower car cruised around, it was Monk, right on time for his last public appearance. As we entered, the Rutgers Jazz Ensemble was into Rhythm‑A‑Ning. This youthful orchestra played its respect by giving their renditions of the music of Thelonious Monk. Sadik Hakim joined at the piano for a sad but soulful 'Round About Midnight. A few moments later as the coffin was being brought in, the public address system breathed Abide With Me, a tape of that tune which was coincidentally written by a 19th century musician William H. Monk, a hymn writer (Played Twice/Ask Me Now).
Many fingers were on hand to pay their hip respects to his hipness the one and only Thelonious Sphere Monk who lay in state before us on that sad but swinging high noon in New York City. There was Muhal Richard Abrams, the only avant‑gardist present, Marian McPartland and Sheila Jordan, the only women musicians who contributed individual tributes to Monk, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Ronnie Mathews, Walter Bishop Jr. and the aforementioned Randy Weston and Sadik Hakim. The other brothers were Gerry Mulligan, Charlie Rouse, Ben Riley, Larry Ridley, John Ore, Paul Jeffrey, Eddie Bert, Lonnie Hillyer, Frankie Dunlop, Abdul Malik, Lee Konitz, Patti Bown and George Barrow (the latter three didn't get to blow) (Humph/Hackensack). And too, there were others that should not have ventured into this sacred scene (Locomotive / Worry Later) and also them so‑called god‑spokesmen of the Saint Peter's Church, they talked toodamned much about heaven, god, religion (theirs) and other commercial jive that had nothing at all I to do with Thelonious Sphere Monk. Who lay there ignoring it all. Later Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) said that when he ever passed, that he would not want anyone blabbering about some jesus, god, etc at his funeral, and if somebody did, Baraka said he would jump up out of the coffin and confront them! (Ruby, My Dear/ Round Lights). George Wein and Ira Gitler were on the scene and said a few tribute and eulogy lengthy words (Well You Needn't/Off Minor). Amongst the many faces that I recognized standing before the opened coffin were Elvin Jones, Beaver Harris, Walter Davis Jr., Joe and Iggy Termini (Five Spot Blues/Misterioso), Ruth Ellington, Robert Parent, Norman Bush and Jayne Cortez (Evidence/Brilliant Corners) plus the others of the thousand. It was a worthy tribute to the magnificent monarch of modern music, that classical music that we all call by its nickname, jazz, that Thelonious Sphere Monk laid on us forever and ever, he was a man (Blue Monk/ Ba‑lue Bolivar Ba‑lues‑are/ 'Round Midnight/ In Walked Bud/ Four In One/ Wee Seel Monk's Mood/ Little Rootie Tootie/ Bright Mississippi/ Pannonica/ Bemsha Swing/ Bluehawk) and we must not ever forget that man's music.
Ted Joans is considered by many to be the original jazz poet. Author of over thirty books of poetry, prose, and collage, including Black Pow-Wow, Beat Funky Jazz Poems, Afrodisia, Jazz is Our Religion, Sure, Really, I Is, Double Trouble, Wow, and Teducation, he coined the term “Bird Lives.”