Thursday, December 31, 2009

Brilliant and Crazy: Thelonious Monk

If you have seen A Beautiful Mind, Russel Crowe as the brilliant and nuts logician John Nash, you have a sense of the connection between mental impairment and genius.  Another case in point is one Thelonious Sphere Monk.  I have loved Monk for a long time now.  Today I read David Yaffee's review of "Robin D.G. Kelley's exhaustive, necessary and, as of now, definitive Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original"  at The Nation.  I can't wait to read the book, but the review is a fine presentation of the man.

If you are interested in digging into some Monk recordings, I have some suggestions.  Monk's best single album, imho, is Brilliant Corners.  Even the title is pure Monk.  Here are some more:
  1. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers with Thelonious Monk
  2. Misterioso
  3. Thelonious Monk in Action
  4. Mulligan Meets Monk
  5. Alone in San Francisco
  6. Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane
  7. Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane
Discs 1-3 feature Johnny Griffin on sax, who turned out to be a very fine interpreter of Monk's genius.  But Monk's encounter with Trane is one of the immortal gifts that jazz keeps giving.  Number seven was my first exposure to Monk, and it left and indelible mark. 

Monk was always a bit nuts.  He knew it, and he used it, but it also irritated him that everyone else knew it.  What can you do?  Of course, there was that hat.

Happy new year. 


  1. I'm glad I ordered Ah Um before I saw this or I'd have been stuck between that and numbers 6 and 7 on this list for days.

  2. Sooner or later you gots to choose. You won't be disappointed with Ah Um. But save those pennies for 6 and 7 and, if you have to, flip one of the pennies. I have become increasing convinced that Trane had a magic horn. No one else seems to have anything like the same power. Reflected and refracted by the non-Euclidean geometry of Monk's genius, that is something awesome.

  3. If my wife wasn't inconsiderate enough to have her birthday between now and payday I'd grab one of those now. Instead I'll buy her some prayer flags. Oh well.
    I'm with you on Coltrane. More than anything he's the reason I fell, and stay, in love with jazz.

  4. It's funny that just as I was reading your comment I was listening to Ken Laster's In The Groove, and he played a bit of Trane's Afro Blue Impressions album. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. That ole' vitamin C.

    Wives come first. Tell yours I said Happy Birthday.