Sunday Jazz — September 15th


During a recent conversation with a co-worker, the subject of favorite music genres came up.  When I mentioned Jazz, the response was immediate:  “Yeah, I don’t really like Jazz, but I do like Thelonious Monk.”  What struck me about this comment was that it made no sense at all…and it made total sense.

There are only a handful of artists that transcend the genre most readily attached to them in such a way that this can happen.  If you aren’t a fan of Country music, you’re probably not out buying George Strait albums.  If Rap isn’t your style, then I’m guessing your iPod isn’t full of DMX.  If PopCountry…Popuntry isn’t your favorite, then you most likely aren’t hanging out with Taylor Swift.  It is only those rare artists that can stand apart, and sometimes even stand alone from the entire genre surrounding them, becoming a music almost all their own.  This is true of Thelonious Monk.

Any discussion of Jazz heavyweights has to include Monk, not only for his playing abilities, but perhaps more so for his composing abilities.  Wikipedia says that while Monk only composed somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-70 songs, his songs have been re-recorded at a higher rate than everyone but Duke Ellington–who composed roughly 1,000 songs.  The song most famously attributed to him, ” ‘Round Midnight” is the most recorded jazz standard written by a jazz musician.

Furthermore, his twisting of the mood and harmonies throughout his songs, couple with his eccentric dress and antics on stage places him in the categories of “visionary” and “ahead of his time” artists.  ” ‘Round Midnight” is a prime example of his tendency to go against the grain whenever possible.  Monk seems to be continuously playing with the rhythm, tempo, and harmony not only of his own playing, but of the lead saxophone playing as well.

Without a doubt, Monk was a master at painting a picture through the medium of Jazz.  These pictures helped pave the road for new artists in a wide range of genres stretching all the way to today.  It is for this reason that someone can say, “I don’t like Jazz….but I do like Thelonious Monk.”


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