In hindsight, it’s hard to believe that I at one time felt that Monk’s music was harder to wrap my head around than the music of other jazz greats. One thing that initially baffled me was that he seemed like such a dark, menacing force in jazz, yet his music often sounded very “major” in terms of scale. It was quite the paradox, but I soon realized that in a way, Monk is the epitome of contradiction. Upon repeated viewings of Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary, I took careful note of Wynton Marsalis’ choosing the word “logical” to describe Monk’s playing. With my limited understanding of Monk and jazz in general, that comment couldn’t have seemed any further from the truth. But slowly, I chipped away at the wall separating me from a better understanding of the complex composer. I watched footage of Monk performances, I kept studying, I kept listening, and eventually Monk made more sense as the shadowy, dangerous villain of jazz I first imagined him as.
The way in which Monk tirelessly incorporated dissonance into his solos left melodies sounding broken in a beautiful way. Consistent with this, Monk was often found thunderously striking the keys with heavy, flat fingers. He literally marched to the beat of his own drum, bucking the bop trend of playing at breakneck speeds while consistently opting for more mid-tempo readings. His style of improvisation was also unique in the sense that he followed the melody much closer than his contemporaries, who in comparison seemed obsessed with rendering a tune utterly unrecognizable. Monk clearly didn’t feel the need to venture out very far melodically to captivate his listener, and by going against the grain in this fashion the once-misunderstood composer slowly but surely gained both popularity and critical acclaim as one of the founding fathers of modern jazz.
Thelonious Monk is a special character in the American musical storybook with a one-of-a-kind voice that will never be forgotten. This discography is a tribute to him as an artist who has inspired me in numerous ways. Click the following link to start exploring!