Thelonious Monk

in classical-music •  6 months ago  (edited)

Transition of jazz from dance and entertainment to intellectual music began in early forties of the 20th century. Interestingly, as a dance music, jazz was replaced by rock-and-roll, which also made a definite evolution, but twenty years later.

In 30-th, a certain musical crisis was felt in jazz, connected with the appearance of a huge number of musical groups playing approximately the same melodies by the same means. Improvisation was reduced to a minimum, the musical taste of the public dropped dramatically. Actually, there is no other way with dance music.


At about the same time, in New York little-known club “Minton’s Playhouse”, self-taught Thelonious Monk with a very strange manner of playing got a job as a pianist. Not having a classical piano education, he absolutely incorrectly put his hands on the keyboard, played with his straight fingers, and as a result took the notes dirty, but compensated for all this with a wonderful innate sense of harmony and masterful syncopa, which looked like randomly taken pauses for some strange musician's whim.

The birth of a new style and the emergence of jazz beyond entertainment music is partly due to the usual competition for the workplace. Thelonious Monk, together with drummer Kenny Clarke, when selecting musicians to his group, came up with their own style of playing, based not on melody, but on improvisation around a certain harmony.

Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker were in that club. They liked the chord system and Monk style, they gladly adopted the style of improvisation around a certain tonality. As a result, Gillespie is considered to be founder of bebop, a style that allowed jazz out of stagnation.

If I may say so, Thelonious Monk was an eccentric. He was very unsociable, he was distinguished by antisocial behavior. Addiction to drugs, which at that time was the norm among the musicians of his circle, did not add to his popularity, because the pianist periodically lost the police permission to perform on the stage due to being caught with substances. He became known only in 1955, when his friend and colleague Charlie Parker died from the effects of heroin use. As is often the case, the sad event attracted the interest of the masses to the world of new jazz. Monk got into focus as one of the founders and followers of bebop.

Virtually any Thelonious performance serves as a lively illustration of the musical characteristics of bebop. The melody, as such, is very difficult to track through endless improvisations, which in reality do not follow the melody, but revolve within a certain tonality. On example of Charlie Parker, this looks even clearer, since his fluent and slightly hysterical style of performance allows you to wind up a large number of sounds in a single musical phrase.


When jazz, through the efforts of new jazzmen in the face of Monk, Gillespie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and other adherents of bebop, became not “music for everyone”, then for the first time the term “hipster” appeared, which meant a person who understands the peculiarities of new music.

The fact that Thelonious Monk stood at the origins of the style and was its architect became clear only later, when he became well known and the listeners began to return to his rare records.

Jazz in style of bebop and its subsequent development for an unprepared person can be difficult to listen to, one can even get tired. Often the albums are very different from the traditional albums in popular music.

For decades there are a number of topics, the list of which is being replenished very slowly, and the music itself is an endless variation of these themes in different manners. On one album there can also be some of the most successful variations of the same theme, which is performed more than a dozen times during a session.

Thelonious Monk was fortunate enough to enrich jazz with several themes that the next generations of jazzmen gladly took over. This is "Ruby My Dear", "Round Midnight", "52nd Street Theme".

Thelonious Monk managed to organically combine his amateurish style of playing with the animal sense of harmony, which was one of the bricks in the appearance of the jazz that makes you think.


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