Blog

Self-liberation Efforts of a Genius:
Thelonious Monk

Blog
Self-liberation Efforts of a Genius: Thelonious Monk

06.12.2017

Text: Haluk Damar

Illustration: Saydan Akşit

Translation: Yetkin Nural

“His melodies were beautiful, his cords were unusual, his colors, his rhythmic sets and the spiritual feeling in his music carried you away.” - Randy Weston

To understand Thelonious Monk, one of the most important pianists of jazz history, we should pay attention to two important details from his early years. First is New York City itself and second is Minton’s Playhouse club in Manhattan where jazz’s bebop genre emerged.

Thelonious Monk moved to Spanish and African-American neighborhood San Juan Hill when he was three years old. It is possible to imagine this neighborhood as an open air conservatory because all the talent that came out of this place shaped jazz history.  The residents of San Juan Hill were all instrumentalists and it was expected from younger generations to keep up this tradition. Since there weren’t many playgrounds for kids back in 1920’s anyway, Monk took part in various orchestras from an early age as well. His sister was playing the piano, his older brother was playing the violin and he himself was playing the trumpet. It is safe to say that these early engagements with music played an important role of Monk’s musical development since this future legend started to create his signature style in his childhood years.

“He epitomizes what a jazz musician supposed to be. He has a style, which is instantly identifiable. It's a very personal approach to jazz.” -Billy Taylor

“Monk is of the few people who really stuck to their guns and got he wanted out of what he wanted to do. Monk went to period of not making it but he still was Monk. When he made it, he still was Monk.” - Barry Harris

During the early 40’s, Thelonious Monk started to play the piano at Minton’s Playhouse, the club where bebop genre of jazz was perfected. Here, Monk got the chance to play with legendary names such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Kenny Clarke and Charlie Christian.  The owner of the Minton’s Playhouse, Charles Minton, was a musician and businessman known for his contributions to jazz during 30’s. He collected various financially challenged jazz musicians under his club’s roof and created a musical hub that gave birth to a new genre and launched the careers of many legendary names. One of the highlights of Minton’s Playhouse was the musicians’ themed ‘duellos’, in which names such as Roy Eldridge. Ben Webster, Lester Young, Hot Lips Page were challenging each other. The story of Dizzy Gillespie challenging his mentor Roy Eldridge and - after hours of playing - winning the duello is one of the best stories of jazz history.

It is natural for a genius to shine in such an environment. And as I mentioned before, it was obvious from the very beginning that Thelonious Monk was a genius. But the real challenge for Monk was to deliver the music in his mind to his audiences. Monk realized that the only way to do this was to create non-stop. In the 40’s the melodies played in clubs were being used in albums without giving any credits anyway. The reason why Monk wanted to create all the time was not just only about feeling comfortable doing so, but it was also a defense mechanism. Under the guidance of this creative mindset, he did his first recording session with Coleman Hawkins Quartet in 1944. Hawkins was one of the first names who saw the genius in Monk and never withheld his support. Monk’s first record as a bandleader came later when he recorded for Blue Note in 1947. This recording was built on a purely improvisational technic.

All of Monk’s recordings were based on his live performance experiences in various clubs. That changed after an incident that occurred in 1951 August. While Monk was driving with Budd Powell, the New York police decided to search the car and found some illegal substances, which were believed to belong to Powell. Since Monk refused to testify against his close friend, the NYPD cancelled his cabaret license. This resulted in Monk being banished from New York clubs between 1949 and 1954, spending the early 50’s recording and playing at clubs out of town. After his contract with Blue Note ended in 1952, Monk switched to another legendary record label, Prestige Records. Here he recorded jazz classics with Sonny Rollins, Max Roach and Art Blakey.

Monk’s return to New York nightlife was absolutely magnificent. When his cabaret license was renewed in 1957, Monk started to play with John Coltrane at East Village. Wilbur Ware at the bass and Shadow Wilson at the drums accompanied Monk and Coltrane. The live music of this quartet has become to known as uniquely legendary. Unfortunately since Monk and Coltrane were working with different record labels at the time, very few of these live sessions were recorded.

Until 1962, Thelonious Monk was known with his live performances rather than his recordings. When he joined Columbia Records in 1962, this situation got reversed. Teo Macero, hands down the most important producer of jazz history, was a part of Columbia Records team at the time. Macero was the producer of geniuses like Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck. And it didn’t take much for Monk to be captivated by Macero as well. During 1963, Monk recorded Monk’s Dream album with John Ore at the bass, Frankie Dunlop at the drums and Macero as the producer. Monk’s Dream became not only the best selling album of Monk’s career but also the recording that gave Monk the fame he deserved.

“Monk is the absolute opposite of Miles Davis.” -John Coltrane.

Thelonious Monk is one of the rare figures of jazz that is hard to understand but well worth the effort. He never became political, never took part in a musical project that he didn’t want. As a musician who never lost sight of his own vision, Monk became a legend with his uncompromising creativity.

Follow Us
TR EN
Filter events by label
15 OCT MON
-
16 OCT TUE
1

18:30

Aerial Dance

Akbank Sanat

17 OCT WED
3

18:30

Dance Classes for Adult

Akbank Sanat

19:00

Shinya Fukumori Trio

Akbank Sanat

21:30

The Comet Is Coming

Babylon

18 OCT THU
6

10:30

Jazz in High SchoolsPrivate Şişli Terakki High School

Özel Şişli Terakki Lisesi

14:00

Jazz in High SchoolsKadıköy High School

Kadıköy Anadolu High School

18:30

Dance Classes for Adult

Akbank Sanat

20:30

Till Brönner “The Good Life"

Uniq Hall (Maslak)

21:00

Ozan Musluoğlu Quintet

The Badau

21:30

Josef Leimberg And The Astral Progressions Ensemble

Babylon

19 OCT FRI
7

10:00

Jazz in High Schools Saint Benoît High School

Saint Benoit High School

13:30

Jazz in High Schools Galatasaray High School

Galatasaray High School

16:00

Jazz in High SchoolsSainte-Pulchérie High School

Sainte-Pulchérie High School

18:30

Dance Classes for Adult

Akbank Sanat

19:00

Rémi Panossian Trio

Akbank Sanat

20:30

Jehan Barbur feat. Fırat Tanış

Caddebostan Culture Center

21:30

Karl Hector & The Malcouns

Babylon

20 OCT SAT
9

15:00

Swing Kids / Dance Workshop For Children(Taksim)

Akbank Sanat

15:00

The Chapter Of North

Soho House

15:30

Mini Mosaics Workshop (For 7 – 12 Ages)

Akbank Sanat

17:00

Toy Sculpture Workshop (For 7-12 Ages)

Akbank Sanat

18:00

Jazz In The Evening: Sanat Deliorman & Uraz Kıvaner Duo

Akbank Sanat

18:00

Swing Jazz / Solo Jazz Dance Workshop(Taksim)

Istanbul Lindy Hoppers' Stüdyo Harlem

19:00

Swing Jazz / Lindy Hop Dance Workshop (Taksim)

Istanbul Lindy Hoppers' Stüdyo Harlem

20:30

Mehmet Uluğ Night: Aydın Esen Group & Can Kozlu

Babylon

20:30

Birsen Tezer Eastern Standards

Caddebostan Culture Center

21 OCT SUN
8

10:30

Jazzy Brunch / Moda Deniz Kulübü

Moda Deniz Kulübü

13:00

A Tribute To Erol Pekcan

Pera Palace

15:00

Swing Kids / Dance Workshop For Children (Kadıköy)

Istanbul Lindy Hoppers' Stüdyo Savoy

16:00

Jazz Tap Workshop

Istanbul Lindy Hoppers' Stüdyo Savoy

17:00

Swing Jazz / Solo Jazz Dance Workshop(Kadıköy)

Istanbul Lindy Hoppers' Stüdyo Savoy

18:00

Avishai Cohen Quartet

Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall

18:00

Swing Jazz / Lindy Hop Dance Workshop (Kadıköy)

Istanbul Lindy Hoppers' Stüdyo Savoy

20:30

The Bad Plus

Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall

22 OCT MON
4

13:15

Jazz in High SchoolsPrivate Enka High School

Özel Enka High School

15:45

Jazz in High Schools Robert College

İstanbul Amerikan Robert High School

19:00

Koffi Kwahulé: Jazz As An Inspiration For Theatre

Fransız Kültür Merkezi

20:30

Tarkovsky Quartet

Zorlu PSM, Drama Stage

23 OCT TUE
5

10:00

Jazz in High SchoolsPrivate German High School

Özel Alman Lisesi

13:00

Jazz in High SchoolsSt George's Austrian High School

Avusturya Lisesi

18:30

Aerial Dance

Akbank Sanat

21:00

Jamie Cullum

Volkswagen Arena

21:30

Nubya Garcia

Babylon

24 OCT WED
5

17:00

Stories that needed to be told: The History of European Jazz

Gabbro Swissotel

18:30

Dance Classes for Adult

Akbank Sanat

19:00

Konstrukt

Akbank Sanat

20:00

Woody Black 4

Summart Art Center

21:30

Omer Avital Qantar

Babylon

25 OCT THU
4

18:30

Dance Classes for Adult

Akbank Sanat

19:00

Can Çankaya & Kağan Yıldız

Akbank Sanat

21:00

Ceyl'an Ertem - Unplugged

Moda Stage

21:30

Ezra Collective

Babylon

26 OCT FRI
4

18:30

Dance Classes for Adult

Akbank Sanat

21:30

Bixiga 70

Babylon

22:00

Islandman & Guests

Moda Stage

22:30

Caloé

Nardis

27 OCT SAT
8

Creative Dance Courses for Children

Akbank Sanat

11:00

I Am Designing My Own Bag (Ages 6 - 14 Years Old)

Akbank Sanat

13:00

Colorful Cups (For 6-14 Ages)

Akbank Sanat

14:30

Aerial Dance

Akbank Sanat

15:30

Sculpture Hands & Arms(For 9-12 Ages)

Akbank Sanat

17:00

Tai Chi ChuanEce Dündar Alp

Akbank Sanat

17:00

Family Mosaic Workshop

Akbank Sanat

18:00

Jazz In The Evenıng: Newpel

Gabbro Swissotel

28 OCT SUN
1

10:30

Jazzy Brunch / Bizim Tepe

Bizim Tepe, Tepe Majeur

29 OCT MON
-
30 OCT TUE
3

11:00

Dom Roberto

Akbank Sanat

18:30

Aerial Dance

Akbank Sanat

20:30

Etc.

Akbank Sanat

31 OCT WED
4

11:00

Pinocchio

Akbank Sanat

14:30

6 Short Animation Short Films

Akbank Sanat

18:30

Dance Classes for Adult

Akbank Sanat

20:30

Magic Tree

Akbank Sanat

01 NOV THU
3

11:00

The Only Bird Not Afraid From The Cold

Akbank Sanat

14:30

6 Short Animation Short Films

Akbank Sanat

20:30

History Of Circulation

Akbank Sanat

02 NOV FRI
2

11:00

Garbage Monster

Akbank Sanat

20:30

Magic Lamp

Akbank Sanat

03 NOV SAT
3

15:30

Mini Mosaics Workshop (For 7 – 12 Ages)

Akbank Sanat

17:00

Toy Sculpture Workshop (For 7-12 Ages)

Akbank Sanat

20:30

Game Of Time

Akbank Sanat

04 NOV SUN
-

Add event to your calendar

Subscribe to Newsletter