Thelonious Monk


Piano / Composer

As influential as he proved to be during the final decades of his lifetime, it appears that Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-82) has only gained greater stature in the years since his death. Once considered too eccentric and complex to be appreciated, Monk has become a standard of excellence, as both composer and soloist, for those who seek to extend the jazz tradition to today. While born in North Carolina, Monk moved to the Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan at age four; making him in effect a native New Yorker. By 1936 he served as house pianist at Minton's, the legendary Harlem club where drummer Kenny Clarke was also in the band and young musicians like Charlie Christian and Dizzy Gillespie liked to show up for after-hours jamming. The exchange of ideas that took place in these sessions led to the style later known as bebop, of which style Monk is a key contributor. Monks ideas regarding tonality, accent and dissonance were not typically boppish, however; and, except for a 1944 session with Coleman Hawkins where he made his debut, he was not recorded as quickly as the other modernists. As a composer; however; Monk made his presence felt and his 'Round Midnight", "Epistrophy" and "Off Minor" were all recorded by others even before Monk obtained his first session as a leader in 1947. After losing his New York cabaret card, Monk had to confine much of his playing to his kitchen (where young acolytes like Sonny Rollins rehearsed). In 1955, Monk signed with Riverside Records. In a series of albums that quickly came to feature his music, as well as the best players of the period (including Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Monk's former boss Coleman Hawkins), Monk's music finally grew to be appreciated. In 1957 he began an extended stay at the Five Spot with a quartet featuring Coltrane that was hailed as the most profound meeting of jazz giants since Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
Over the next 15 years, Monk became an international jazz star; touring with a quartet that, after Coltrane, featured Johnny Griffin and Charlie Rouse. He also made brilliant solo recordings and led large ensembles in concerts and live recordings. After touring with a Giants of Jazz sextet that also featured his old friends Gillespie and Art Blakey, Monk withdrew from the public eye and spent the final decade of his life in seclusion. His music continued to gain popularity, however; and shows no sign of losing its influence as younger musicians continue to mine his ideas for further inspiration.

Go to Monk's page at emusic for free MP3 downloads
Recommended recordings
Genius of Modern Music Vol 1 Blue Note 81510
Genius of Modern Music Vol 2 Blue Note 81511
Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane
OJC 039-2 - Jazzland 46
Thelonious Monk / Sonny Rollins 
OJC 059-2 - Prestige 7075
Thelonious Monk
OJC 010-2 - Prestige 7027
OJC 016-2 - Prestige 7053
Monk's Music
OJC 084-2 - Riverside 1102
Brilliant Corners
OJC 026-2 - Riverside 226
Thelonious Himself
OJC 254-2 - Riverside 9459
Thelonious Monk Quartet / Misterioso
OJC 206-2 - Riverside 1133
Thelonious Monk in Italy
OJC 488-2 - Riverside 9443
Monk's Music
OJC 084-2 - Riverside 1102
Thelonious in Action 
OJC 103-2 - Riverside 1190
Monk's Dream 
Columbia 40786
Thelonious alone in San Francisco
OJC 231-2 - Riverside 1158
5 by Monk by  5
OJC 362-2 - Riverside 1150
Blue Monk
Prestige 009
Complete Blue Note Recordings
Blue Note 30363
Some of the Best Contemporary Jazz Pianists
Kenny Barron
Joe Zawinul
Brad Meldau
Bill Charlap
Keith Jarrett
Chick Corea
Andrew Hill