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Interviews

TS Monk: His Father's Voice Monk Quartet with Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, Part 1

By Published: September 26, 2005

AAJ: As I listened to the CD in preparing my notes for the review, I kept noticing the words "joyous" and "joyful." I don't know that I ever heard your father sound so happy playing with someone.

TSM: That's why this is going to be the biggest-selling record that he ever made. Because EVERYONE who has listened to this recording—and I can say with a fair amount of confidence that at least sixty or seventy percent of the people who have heard this recording so far, above and beyond being "jazz people," they really know who Thelonious Monk is, they are really acquainted with all his recordings, and every single person—EVERY SINGLE PERSON bar none—has said exactly the same thing: They never heard Thelonious play like this. The only people who have not said this are a couple of the older folks that I know, like in my family, who were really on the scene when Thelonious was really in his stride. Most of the people listening today are a hair too young; they're primarily familiar with recordings that Thelonious did in the studio or a few live recordings that have been out there. But this recording, for ME, and I'm his SON, all thirty-three years of my life I was up close and personal to this guy until he left us—I had never heard him play like this.

When I was first listening to this recording, I have to tell you very frankly that for the first time I heard the Thelonious Monk of legend. The Thelonious Monk that, when an older person, someone in their late sixties, maybe one of these writers like Ira Gitler or Morgenstern or somebody like that, who really heard Thelonious in the 1940s and early '50s, the way their eyes light up when they talk about going to hear Thelonious Monk at Minton's or Thelonious Monk at La Boheme in 1952 or something like that: I now understand exactly what they're talking about!

And it's remarkable because, even having not heard anything like this, Thelonious was STILL one of the top three jazz musicians of all time! So with this added to it, his stock is going to rise on so many levels as a result of this recording. I'm so delighted, more than anything, for Thelonious and John Coltrane, because this recording is sort of a rosetta stone for these cats in modern jazz.

AAJ: It is almost like discovering thirty new Psalms that were never published in the Bible.

TSM: Yeah! Yeah! This answers so many questions! The first thing that I think anybody notices, once you get past the sort of pristine sound of the recording, the sort of "today sound" of the recording, is the clarity of Thelonious' harmonics. We all know how deep his harmonics are—they're studied all over the world. But I submit that upon this recording there are a lot of major jazz educators and musicologists that are going to have to again retool their assessment of Thelonious Monk. There are things I am hearing that I am sure you are hearing, that everybody else is hearing, about the chords and the clusters that he plays that, with all the technology he had through the years he was recording at CBS, with all the many many recordings that we have heard: I have simply never heard this clarity of harmonics from Thelonious. Listening to it, I say, "Oh. The man really did know more harmony than any other human being that ever lived."

I felt that way and I've discussed that with so many musicians who felt that way but after listening to this, there's no doubt in my mind: His mastery of western harmony is beyond belief. And to be able to do it spontaneously, extemporaneously, is completely over the top. The issue of Thelonious' technique is sort of laid to rest, I mean it gets buried eighteen feet down! Which goes to the issue where you began, of the joy that you hear. I had a person say the other night, a real Monk fan, young lady, she came to the house and she listened to the recording. "Oh, man, this sounds like Monk is showing off on this! I have never heard him play like this, to play this much stuff, this clear and this joyful and it makes so much sense." If that was all I heard in this recording, it would be wonderful for Thelonious.

For John Coltrane, there are so many things that I now see, having been chairman of the Monk Institute for twenty years now, understanding exactly what jazz education is all about in the institutional setting and in the streets. I say, "Man, this guy was waiting for this relationship."



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