Thelonious Monk


The remarkable thing about artistic innovation is that once an artist breaks the mold and invents a new style of performance, composition, or improvisation, the next generation of musicians follow this precedent.

For example: Every jazz saxophone player in the generation after Charlie Parker, tried to sound like Charlie Parker.

Sometimes this is a good thing that furthers the evolution of sound and style, and sometimes it's just a straight rip off. To follow the Charlie Parker analogy, Charles Mingus (the famous jazz bassist/composer/band leader) once said,

"If Charlie Parker was a gunslinger, there would be a whole lot of dead copy cats."

Nevertheless, Thelonious Monk is a jazz piano player/composer who is often credited with creating the bebop movement. However, my axiom today is:

Thelonious Monk was the most influential jazz musician, with the most immediately identifiable improvisational, rhythmic, and harmonic language, whose style was never copied (stolen) by the subsequent generation of musicians.

The provided clip is a performance from 1966. The band is comprised of:

Thelonious Monk – piano

Charlie Rouse – tenor sax

Larry Gales – bass

Ben Riley – drums

Take note of these features of Monk's playing:

1. He almost never touches the sustain pedal; the surface texture of his playing is very dry

2. His choice in chord voicings are very dense and sharp sounding

3. His rhythmic interplay during the band's solos is almost out of the pocket and a little jarring

4. He plays his solo like the keys of his piano were too hot to hold down

5. His personal style is branded by suites, unusual hats, and an angular beard

6. He often times liked to stand up when he is not playing and stand beside the piano (sometimes he dances a little when he does this)

In this clip you will see him stand at the start of the bass solo at 6 min 20 seconds.

Monk had style. Monk is the second most recorded jazz musician after Duke Ellington. Monk's performance peculiarities remained his own, despite their influence.