by Gunther Schuller.


from The Jazz Review (November 1958).



HARLEM JAZZ, 1941, Esoteric 548.

THELONIOUS MONK Genius of Modern Music, Vol's 1 & 2, Blue Note 1510-11

MILT JACKSON (With the MJQ and Thelonius Monk) Blue Note 1509

THELONIOUS MONK Trios, Prestige 7027

THELONIOUS MONK Quintets, Prestige 7053

THELONIOUS MONK, Prestige 7055

THELONIOUS MONK plays Duke Ellington, Riverside RLP 12-201


THELONIOUS MONK, Brilliant Corners, Riverside RLP 12-226


MONK'S MUSIC, Riverside 12-242


SONNY ROLLINS, Vol. 2, Blue Note 1558

ART BLAKEY'S Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk, Atlantic 1278


In recent years Thelonious Monk has begun to exert considerable influence on younger musicians, in sharp contrast to earlier years when he was either ignored or misunderstood by all but a few musicians and even fewer critics. It took almost a decade for the legend of the "High Priest of Bop" with all its mystical and cultish fripperies to die down. And today it is much more possible to evaluate Monk purely and squarely on a musical basis, minus all the extra-musical bop·hokum. The sober, understanding approach of Riverside Records, the company for whom Monk has been recording since 1955; the significant critical appraisals by men as far apart (geographically) as Martin Williams and Andre Hodeir; Monk's increasing successfulness in terms of a career; and now even this magazine's first-issue cover picture, sans glasses and cap and for a change not underexposed--all these are indications that the appreciation of Thelonious Monk has reached a stage where a reassessment of his unique contribution to jazz would seem germane.

His recorded work, made over a span of seventeen years, divides itself into three periods: the early formative years, the first breakthrough of the full original talent (in the late forties to early fifties), and lately a degree of leveling off and matured consolidation. For me the second period is the most exciting because it displays Monk's talent at its freshest and most direct. Compositions like Criss Cross, Eronel, Evidence and Misterioso are pure, un-cluttered musical emanations. They are completely original, remarkably concise [1], and rather well performed. They are available on Blue Note and Prestige, who have collected the 1947/54 recordings on half a dozen LP's. Many of these recordings still stand up very well on repeated rehearings. Certainly none of them seem dated, largely because Monk never was the bopper so many people thought he was; and he never was "cool" in the bop sense. One searches in vain for the atmosphere and cliches of the bop era (particularly in its late forties stages), and one finds only Monk--original, daring, blunt, occasionally crude, and witty.

Criss Cross (Blue Note 1509) stands out as perhaps the Monk masterpiece of this period. It contains all the by now familiar melodic-harmonic characteristics, his innovations in shifting rhythms and accents, but is above all important because it is a purely instrumental conception. It is not a "song", a term so many jazz musicians apply to all the music they work with, it is not a "tune"--it is a composition for instruments. In this respect it is in the tradition of such masterpieces as Jelly Roll Morton's Kansas City Stomps and Ellington's Ko-Ko. But its most radical aspect is that Criss Cross is in a sense an abstraction. It does not describe or portray anything specific, it does not attempt to set a "mood" or the like; it simply states and develops certain musical ideas, in much the way that an abstract painter will work with specific non-objective patterns.

Eronel and Evidence, the latter with a stark and tonally oblique introduction, do likewise, but Evidence suffers from a poor Monk solo. It consists almost entirely of cliches, although admittedly Monk cliches, --like the whole-tone scales and diddledee repeated triplet figures. Both Misterioso and Four In One are represented on Blue Note 1509 in alternate masters, the other versions being included in Blue Note 1510 and 1511. Actually all four versions are excellent, but of Four In One I prefer the 1509 since it features slightly better solos, some superb Monk accompaniment behind Jackson, and a better balance between Sahib Shihab's excellent alto, Jackson's vibes and Monk's piano. Such a balance is important because, as in so many Monk compositions, the witty answers by the piano need to be at the same level as the "horns" and not in the background.

In the case of Misterioso the preference goes definitely to the Monk Vol. 1 (Blue Note 1510) version. (Both incidentally are in a much brighter tempo than the 1957 Rollins-J. J.-Monk performance on Blue Note LP 1558.) Misterioso has been one of Monk's most influential recordings, and small wonder. It is a summation of Monk's work up to that time, and, in both composition and solo a wondrous example of his artistic maturity and his awareness of the challenge of discipline and economy. One chorus of walking parallel sixths sets the mood. Behind Jackson's solo Monk then plays a series of melodic sevenths that in their bluntness are so striking that one can hardly concentrate on the vibes. Monk's own solo sustains this level. It is based on a series of minor second clusters (I will return to these later) and an imperious upward figure. When the "head" returns, instead of mere repetition, Monk enlarges upon it. In an almost Webern· like manner he spreads the pattern of sevenths used earlier over two or three octaves. The resulting dramatic skips, rhythmically oblique to the main theme, are the last link in the chain of heightening intensity that generates this piece.

Incidentally, this idea of varying the exposition when it returns as a final recapitulation was a rather unusual procedure at this time, and is still rare. In thousands of bop and modern jazz performances, opening and ending were identical, and even orchestrating them in harmony rather than unison was thought to be unusual. Monk was a real pioneer in this respect, generally slightly altering his basic thematic material through revoicing, reorchestrating or--as in Misterioso and Evidence superimposing upon it previously stated ideas. In both examples these superimpositions are harmonically so unusual that they considerably obliterate the original tonal centers.

Many of the forty-odd titles recorded at that time are only-partially successful and some are indeed quite bad. I shall single out only a few. There are (on Blue Note 1510) a very spirited I Mean You with good Milt Jackson; Humph, one of the many Monk compositions that experiments with parallel chords and tritone (i.e. flatted fifth) melodies, and which features some excellent Idrees Sulieman trumpet; the one-note theme of Thelonious with an interesting interpolation of pure stride piano; a fair Epistrophy and In walked Bud; an indifferent and out of tune 'Round about Midnight (the later solo version is much more personal); and a whole trio date including 0ff Minor and Ruby My Dear, which seems to have been a hopelessly listless affair, I think, primarily because of the stiff rhythm section. Ramey's plunky bass and Blakey's dull swing-era drumming are like a blanket of fog. (Blakey, of course, has since then been Monk's most constant partner and developed so individually that in the recent Atlantic LP 1278 on some tracks he almost steals Monk's thunder.)

Blue Note 1511 ranges from poor to good. Suburban Eyes and Evonce, both terribly recorded, are perhaps the closest Monk ever came to bop orthodoxy. The tunes, of course, are not his (the contrast to his own material is a revelation), and in them we hear some fair Danny Quebec and Sulieman, with Monk mostly killing time with cliches. Four other tracks bring Lucky Thompson, Kenny Dorham and Max Roach into the fold with excellent results. Carolina in 6/4 time is beautifully orchestrated, has some good Lucky, Dorham, and lively Roach double-timing. Skippy is quite unusual: a 32-bar piece in which the first 24 bars (piano and rhythm alone) consist almost exclusively of tritones in parallel progressions, while the last eight measures suddenly bring in the three "horns" in a four-bar chromatic scale (voiced in tritones!) and a four·bar fanfare-like phrase (again tritonic). Let's Cool One has an interesting moment in the bridge where on an F-chord Monk has trumpet and alto on unison B-flat and the tenor on an A, a ninth below. This is one of the first instances of Monk's use of isolated naked ninths (or sevenths). That he really cherished this sound is further substantiated when, during the entire bass solo on the bridge, Monk remains silent except to throw in on the F-chord that same bald minor ninth. Both Skippy and Let's Cool One feature fair to good solos by Lucky (listen to how he literally "eats up" the changes), Dorham (very close to the Clifford Brown of a few years later) and a fledgling Lou Donaldson. The haunting Monk's Mood is spoiled completely by some inexplicably wobbly out-of-tune (almost hotel-type) Shihab alto. Straight, No Chaser not only has good Shihab and Milt Jackson but also some driving bass by McKibbon. Both this and Who Knows, by the way, are excellent examples of fluent, technically proficient and at times even mellow Monk piano,--a good answer to those who say Monk can't play that kind of piano.

That kind of piano, it so happens, would be out of place in most of Monk's music. (Imagine his angular and blunt lines played by a Billy Taylor-- or even a Tatum or John Lewis.) The tone, the touch, and if you will, even the crudity, are part and parcel of Monk's personality, and in it the components composer-pianist are as inseparable as the elements of an alloy.

Incidentally for those who still tend to doubt Monk's ability to play technically fluent piano, listening to his almost Teddy Wilson-like work on the 1941 Minton's Playhouse LP (Esoteric 548) in Swing to Bop and Stompin' at the Savoy can be a revelation. Of course there is also the testimony of Mary Lou Williams who says: "While Monk was in Kay·cee he jammed every night, really used to blow on piano, employing a lot more technique than he does today. Monk plays the way he does now because he got fed up. I know how Monk can play" "He told me he was sick of hearing musicians play the same thing the same way all the time." [2]



1952 to 1954 Monk recorded for Prestige (7075, 7027, 7053). The latter two LP's are superior to 7075, but on none of the three is Monk able to add basically to the impression established by Criss Cross and other earlier works. On Prestige LP 7027 there are eight tracks, many of which reflect the two influences of Monk's formative years: Harlem stride piano and Kansas City blues-based piano. The latter is especially evident on his famous Blue Monk, recorded in 1954. Of special interest are Little Rootie Tootie, a latter-day train-song with imitations of a train whistle; Monk's Dream with its bridge in minor seconds; Trinkle Tinkle, derived from a right-hand embellishment figure quite common among the more florid boogie woogie pianists and which illustrates the· "tinkling" suggested by the title; These Foolish Things, sardonically dressed in clashing minor seconds; and Bemsha Swing in which, during Max's solo, Monk throws in isolated variants of the main theme--a fascinating touch. (Incidentally Prestige should be ashamed of itself for allowing a record date on such a bad piano; it sounds like a tinny, out-of tune barroom upright.)

Some of the 1953 and '54 recordings did not come off too well. I find the ill-fated Friday the Thirteenth in terms of performance quite dismal, with so·so solos by Rollins and Watkins and a logy rhythm section. Work, recorded a year later, rambles too much, but Nutty has a colorful Blakey solo, a distinctive brightly chorded theme, and an over-all optimistic feeling about it.

On Prestige 7053 we fare much better. Let's Call This could only be Monk's with its fascinatingly dogged ghost-note melody. Think of One (presented in two versions) is another one-note theme with unisons occasionally flaring out into major seconds. The solos by all concerned, especially Julius Watkins, are better on take one. We See is another bright optimistic piece with fair solos. Locomotive, a distant cousin of the "train blues", is a superb example of Monk's ability to vary and develop a theme, not just improvising on a chord progression. His entire solo here is based on the opening motive. (Neither Ray Copeland nor Frank Foster seem to have tried to do likewise.) Hackensack is another witty piece, interestingly orchestrated. In the last bridge it almost seems as if Monk cruelly imitates Ray Copeland's high-register "clam".

A real revelation for me was Monk's rendition of the Kern tune Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Here Monk deliberately turns it from a tune into a composition by means of instrumentation and chord alteration. He achieves this by splitting up the melody between piano and "horns" and by beautifully altering one chord: A instead of E-flat against which he plays a D-flat C-major seventh in the right hand [3] -one of the most beautiful spots in all of Monk.


We turn now to the six Riverside LPs. Monk's first two albums there were based entirely on music other than his own,--Ellington on the first and in "The Unique" a variety of standard hits. I cannot agree entirely with Nat Hentoff's position [4] about the first set that Monk's "technique pianistically isn't always adequate for what he wants to express in his own personal language; it is less adequate for this variegated a program". It is also misleading to read the implication that Monk is incapable of "building organic variations on Ellington's initial themes", when Monk is actually one of the few musicians who can do just this, as I've indicated in other parts of this review. But why this Ellington LP did not turn out as fruitful as one might have been led to expect is hard to say. It does suffer--and Nat is certainly right about this-from an over-all dullness. But I suspect that Monk felt somehow psychologically stiffed--not technically hampered-by the Ellington tunes. This would explain why the one great track, It Don't Mean a Thing, and to a lesser extent Caravan are the only pieces on which Monk masters the material. Both pieces are more than tunes; they are instrumental compositions, and in Thing there was the added challenge for Monk of the one-note theme, something he had already experimented with in his own Thelonious and Think of One. In Monk's hands Thing becomes a harmonic variation on one note (B-flat) with ever fresh surprises. Both Caravan and Thing also contain fascinating bass solos by Oscar Pettiford, especially the three-part chords in Thing.

I think it was an illusion on the part of Orrin Keepnews to think that he could get Monk to reach a wider audience through the use of standard tunes. A musician of Monk's individuality and artistic integrity is never easily accepted by a large audience, and it seems fruitless to try to achieve this-at least on the audience's terms. Moreover, it is fallacious to think that people can be lured into accepting Monk if he plays You Are Too Beautiful or the like, because such people want to hear those tunes in more orthodox versions. Those who can appreciate Monk's concept of these tunes don't need the tunes as a crutch in the first place. (Mr. Keepnews seems to have realized this himself as indicated by his liner notes for a subsequent Monk LP.)

The "Unique" album flounders on this false premise, and somehow deep within himself Monk may have sensed this. The album seems at times to suffer from over-preparation. In any case, he again seems a prisoner of the tunes with fortunately some exceptions. Honeysuckle Rose and Tea For Two attracted Monk's wry satiric humor. In Tea, after a Zez Confrey type introduction and some rather stiff bowed bass by Pettiford, Monk launches into purposely stiff old-fashioned piano that lampoons the kind of piano playing his illusory mass audience probably would dig. But while Monk makes fun, he does so on a high musical level, couching his satire in daring bitonal chord-distillations. Likewise in Honeysuckle, which is further enhanced by much use of parallel chords of minor sixths, echoed brilliantly by Blakey's tomtoms tuned similarly in D-flat, C and F. Liza is marred by a seemingly endless stereotype ending, whereas Just You, Just Me is quite superior if only for a long thematic-melodic variation and a good Blakey solo.

In "Brilliant Corners" (Riverside 12-226) the problem seems to have been primarily that of performance and insufficient familiarity with the material. While effortless, smooth playing would probably seem amiss in most any Monk opus, I find the saxes (Rollins and the late Emie Henry) needlessly harsh and out-of tune. Monk himself does not play anything that he had not already done somewhere earlier and much of it seems routine. As a matter of fact, I found some of this set emotionally depressing (especially Pannonica), which is understandable perhaps in view of the many rather lean years Monk has had. The album does come to life again with Bemsha Swing, mostly by virtue of a rather light airy rendition, a fine Pettiford solo and Max Roach's pulsating work on timpani. On Balue Bolivar Balues-are, the disparate elements of Henry's wailing alto, Monk's stride·ish piano, a strongly Monk-influenced Roliins solo, some overly busy Roach, and a clean highly expressive Pettiford solo never quite jell into a unified performance.

Perhaps, as Martin Williams has said [5], "one may well despair of assimilating" all the "suggestions about future possibilities" contained on this record. It is clear that the musicians who perform with Monk must also be given a chance to assimilate the music they are playing more thoroughly. Orrin Keepnews in his excellent liner notes touches upon the problem, when, in comparing Monk to other more easily accessible composers, he says: "What he [Monk] offers is not smooth, public-relations-conscious artifice or surface skills, but merely the music that is in him". He is one of "those non-benders and non-conformers who doesn't happen even to seem easy to understand". But precisely because this is so, the performances must be better prepared, or else the obstacles to a broader assimilation are too great. What is left in "Brilliant Corners" is a feeling of the potential strength and immediacy of Monk's work but not its realization.

Similarly "Monk's Music" (Riverside 12-242) brings into focus the same problem, further aggravated by the inclusion of Coleman Hawkins on the date. One has to say, with great reluctance [6], that Hawk has considerable trouble finding his way around Monk's music. The record starts with the nineteenth century hymn tune Abide With Me, Monk's (and incidentally Fats Waller's) favorite. It is played in a solemnly intoned, straightforward manner, much like putting a motto at the head of a chapter.

All of Monk's own playing on this record is very, very good; it is strong, lucid, and aggressively leading--a little like Ellington's or Basie's approach with their bands. If all the playing were on Monk's level this would be a great record. As a matter of fact, Blakey and Wilbur Ware are consistently imaginative, but Coltrane--despite his unquestionable though still experimenting talent--doesn't fare too well on the bridge of Well, You Needn't with its difficult-to-be-interesting-on parallel chord changes. (Gryce gets badly hung here, and Copeland manages to skate through with plain up-and-down arpeggios). The odd changes of Epistrophy also hamper Coltrane so that his solo emerges in many tiny (and I think unintentionally) disconnected fragments.

Hawkins shows clearly that he is of an earlier generation. Aside from two shaky or false starts--on Well, You Needn't and Epistrophy, the latter beautifully covered by Blakey, Monk and Ware--Hawk seems often to be thrown by Monk's oblique accompaniments and sparse angular lines. In Ruby, My Dear Monk's insistence on using an E-major chord with both an A and a c-natural in the right hand confuses and stiffens Hawk every time. He does, however, relax ultimately on this track and brings off some strikingly characteristic phrases. On both Off Minor and Epistrophy Hawk plays with a dashing, slightly annoyed "ah-the hell·with-it" attitude, pretty much dis-regarding Monk's altered harmonies.

The only new composition on this septet record has the whimsical title of Crepescule with Nellie, dutifully explained in the liner notes. It is a moody piece, cast in the usual 32-bar AABA-format. The second bar of the A-phrase has a typically unorthodox Monk touch: an E-flat chord with not only the minor seventh and minor ninth, but also the major sixth and major ninth; thus producing a bitonal combination of E-flat and C. Nor does Monk use this dissonance as a passing chord or try to hide it in some way; on the contrary with his characteristic weighty touch he trumpets it out six times.

"Thelonious Himself" (Riverside 12-235) is a real success. Unhampered by other players and beholden only unto himself, Monk ruminates thoughtfully and caressingly in free tempo on the eight pieces, three of them his own. As Keepnews says, much of the album has a quality of "thinking out loud" Monk makes these tunes completely his own, continually extracting and paring down to the essence of each melody and harmony. They all have a beauty and haunting lyricism, especially April in Paris, I Should Care, and All Alone. Other adjectives that come to mind are "mournful" and "nostalgic" 'Round Midnight, Monk's own classic, is intensely personal. The wonderfully delayed upper-register thirds are a kind of delightful torture as one awaits them expectantly. I Should Care is worth many rehearings, as Monk towards the end--after a sort of private double-time passage--plays four chords in which, after first striking all the notes hard and sharply, he quickly releases all but one. This kind of chord distillation is one of the most radical aspects of his music, i.e., the idea that one note above all others can most succinctly represent a chord-not a new idea in music, but almost untried in jazz. In the last half of Care Monk is especially exciting in terms of free tempo playing. His a-rhythmic, unexpected moves create a tremendous tension.

Monk's Mood, now in free tempo as opposed to the 1947 version on Blue Note, is a fitting finale to the album. Starting as a piano solo, Monk later adds bass and tenor (Ware and Coltrane). Coltrane's poignant, almost altoish tenor exactly fits the plaintive mood of the piece.

My one complaint is that Monk here allows too many of his favorite piano "noodles" (all pianists seem to have them). There were so many and they interrupted the continuity at times so much, that I began to count them. There are fourteen of the five-octave descending whole-tone scales and thirty-four (!) of the cocktail-piano-type ascending figures. Significantly they are absent completely in Functional, a long blues that despite many modern dissonances and angular lines is as earthy and basic as a Broonzy folk blues. It ends on three notes typical of late Monk (he has also used them on the record with Mulligan and in the Blue Monk on the Atlantic LP): a low B-flat, and four octaves above a minor ninth B-natural and C-another characteristic chord distillation, all other notes being implied.

The "Mulligan Meets Monk" album is on the surface a good one. Everybody plays well and the five Monk compositions, one tune by Mulligan, and a standard make good points of departure. But probing more deeply one finds that basically Mulligan and Monk don't hear music the same way. It's a little like trying to mix oil and water. There are numerous instances of this difference. Where Gerry, especially in up-tempo pieces, improvises primarily in triadic harmony, adding only sixths and an occasional final flatted fifth, Monk's ear constantly takes him into the furthest reaches of the chords. If I may put it very simply, Gerry always plays the "right" notes, whereas Monk more often than not plays the "wrong" notes that are right! Gerry's rhythm, basically a late swing-era feeling, is also quite far from Monk's wholly original time relationships. With all his musicianly talent, Gerry too often is a man playing at playing a solo.

A convincingly clear example of these basic harmonic and psychological differences is the very end of Sweet and Lovely. Here Monk plays a highly chromatic odd-patterned ascending figure, partially based on the tune, and Gerry answers in an all-too-familiar regular pattern of descending fourths and fifths-each passage is an exact mirror of its creator's musical ear.

Monk is at his best throughout, especially in his superb accompaniments to Gerry, where he often works with thematic material. Ware turns in beautifully timed and inventive solos, with Shadow Wilson always in firm but discreet support.

The remaining record was made for Atlantic, featuring Monk with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Martin Williams' excellent liner notes are about the best thing so far written on Monk in an analytical vein. Except for one minor error, the notes give an informative, clear-thinking insight into the nature of Monk's work, and I heartily recommend them to all who are puzzled by the phenomenon of Thelonious Monk.

Except for John Griffin's Purple Shades all the compositions are by Monk and all re·orchestrated, extended versions of pieces recorded earlier. Throughout the record Blakey's drumming is outstanding, both in his solos and in his support of Hardman and Griffin (especially when he kicks them off in doubletime). Blakey adds so many imaginative touches, perfectly executed, that it would be futile to attempt to describe them. Listen especially to I Mean You. Some of the highlights of the record are Monk's pointillistic solo (like isolated spurts of sound) on Evidence, a solo based on the stark main theme; his theme-derived solos on In Walked Bud and I Mean You; a very dramatic (mostly low-register) improvisation on Blue Monk; and his low barking sounds behind Griffin in Purple Shades. Only his solo in Rhythm-a-ning is disappointing because it is too derivative of things Monk has done before. Hardman, Griffin and DeBrest are very young and must go some in terms of control and discipline. Nevertheless Griffin's solos on Rhythm-a-ning and Purple Shades show great promise.

In listening to all these records, several characteristics of Monk begin to stand out. Since some of these are points about which there is often discussion among laymen and musicians alike, I would like to touch upon them briefly in closing.

The first regards the rapid wholetone scales to which Monk is so addicted. While I would agree that Monk overdoes them, they are nevertheless logical within his harmonic thinking. Whole-tone patterns first make their appearance on the 1944 recordings Monk made with Hawkins. It was in those years that the flatted fifth chords began to be generally used by modern jazz musicians. Now it so happens that the most direct line between the flatted fifth and the tonic is a whole-tone pattern of four notes. Add two more notes and you have a whole-tone scale. Furthermore, when one realizes that whole-tone scale is, in effect, a straightened-out horizontal version of an ordinary augmented-ninth chord with a flatted fifth (in F for instance: F A C-sharp E-flat C B-natural), one can see how easily one thing led to the other. This whole area of tritones (flatted fifths) and altered-tone chords opened up once musicians discovered the altered bass line. Instead of going directly from E-flat to A-flat, for instance, they began to interpolate an A-natural [7] (tri-tone from E-flat) and soon a whole complex of new key relationships became apparent [8]. And it is in this melodic-harmonic area that Monk has been one of the most imaginative innovators.

Much has been said about Monk's technique or supposed lack of same. Beyond what I've already said (and coming back also to the cluster C and D-flat I described earlier in Misterioso), I've formed the following opinion or theory. Monk uses his fingers not in the usual arched position pianistic orthodoxy requires but in a flat horizontal way. This determines a number of characteristics in Monk's music. Aside from the tone quality it produces, it makes, for instance, the playing of octaves very hazardous. In playing an octave of two E)s, let us say, it would be easy to also hit by accident the D (a tone below the upper E) and the F (a tone above the lower E). I imagine that Monk soon discovered that he could exploit his unorthodox finger positions, and began to make use of these "extra" notes which others would have heard as "wrong" and tried to eliminate. [9] The old tradition of approximating blue notes by playing a minor second also fit in here. In this respect Monk went even further. The clash of a minor second became so natural to his ear that on top of one blue note he began to add another right next to it, as in Misterioso where the D-flat--already a blue note --has another blue note, the C attached to it, like a satellite.

Also Monk plays more large intervals in his right hand than most pianists. Again this is traceable, physically to the way he plays. His fingers reach these intervals very naturally; and while this is true of half a dozen other pianists, I think this factor takes on added importance for Monk because of one striking-feature of his talent. Where many pianists less original than Monk are exclusively concerned with playing the "right" (Or acceptable) notes, Monk, at his most inspired, thinks of over-all shapes and designs or ideas. His hands to a large extent determine these shapes, and, because he is a man of great talent, or perhaps even genius, he does play the right notes, almost as a matter of course. This is to make a fine distinction--a distinction, however, that we need in order to separate the genius from the good musician.

One point remains, the point of Monk's belated influence. First let it be noted that this influence affected almost entirely instrumentalists other than pianists. As I've indicated, Monk's music, engendered largely by his unorthodox pianistic approach, resists effective imitation, always the starting point for any overt influence. To play on the piano some of the things Monk does the way he does them even his whole-tone scales, not to mention his more adventurous flights-is virtually impossible for anyone else. Especially in regard to the tone quality Monk gets--a rich, full-bodied, "horn"-like sound, not unlike Ellington's tone [10]. It is therefore natural that he influenced primarily "horn" men (like Rollins and Griffin) who could absorb his musical ideas without coming to grips with his technical idiosyncrasies such men could simply transfer the essence of these ideas to their instrument.

That this occurred years after Monk first set forth these ideas is not only normal but fitting. His ideas were both advanced and unorthodox. They would have been neither had they been immediately absorbed by dozens of musicians. Originality is rare and precious and resists easy assimilation. And in these times of standardization and bland conformism we should be grateful that there are still talents such as Thelonious Monk who remain slightly enigmatic and wonderful to some of us.






1.       Their conciseness is actually to some extent the indirect result of recording for a ten-inch disc, and today when not all musicians have learned that the greater freedom of the LP also requires greater discipline, the confinement of the three·minute time-limit sometimes seems in retrospect like a blessing.

2.       In Hear Me Talkin' To Ya, ed. by Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff.

3.       This is as good an example as I can find of the fact that what Monk actually plays is not so startling. It is the juxtaposition of notes within a given context that is so highly original.

4.       Down Beat Jazz Reviews, 1956; p. 162.

5.       The American Record Guide, Vol. 24, No. 5; January 1958; p. 231.

6.       I say "with great reluctance" because, aside from the obvious fact that Coleman Hawkins is one of the great enduring historical figures of jazz, he was one of the few musicians of his generation who looked with a kindly eye upon the "modern jazz" newcomers, and was in point of fact one of the very few who gave Monk work in the forties. The 194~ engagement on 52nd street led to Monk's first record date.

7.       As in the example from Smoke Gets In Your Eyes described earlier.

8.       Since this review is not intended to be a harmony lesson, I must forego further explanation on this score.

9.       The alternative of relearning piano technique in an orthodox manner would hardly have occurred to a man of Monk's temperament.

10.     It should go without saying, but is often forgotten, that a man's tone on his instrument is inseparably related to the nature of his music.


© The Jazz Review & Gunther Schuller. (1958)