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Interviews

TS Monk: His Fatherís Voice Ė Monk Quartet with Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, Part 2

By Published: September 27, 2005

AAJ: This new recording also represents a new milestone in the career of Coltrane, too, doesn't it?

TSM: Of course the biggest issue for John Coltrane is connecting the dots. I was old enough in 1962, '63, '64, to know that My Favorite Things was a tremendously important recording, and also to know that I didn't know what the hell he was playing on A Love Supreme. But I also remember very clearly - because I was sensitive because of my pedigree—to the fact that there were a lot of people talking about the fact that John Coltrane had gone crazy. They didn't understand how this guy, who had seemed so orderly and so under control with Miles Davis, had become this guy playing sheets of music and sheets of sound and all of that. The natural reaction was, "Well, John Coltrane's gone crazy.

But John Coltrane had not gone crazy. John Coltrane HAD run into Thelonious Monk. And Thelonious Monk unlocked the door for him to go to a place. And thank God that he went there because a lot of tenor players would not be playing a lot of stuff had he not gone there. For those people who didn't understand how this guy could play what he played on "So What and then play what he played on "Ascension, this recording connects the dots. It validates what we who know him always knew about John Coltrane: That he is of the tradition and he is absolutely part of the continuum and there are no glitches.

Just as Miles Davis: I remember the moniker for Miles was "a traitor —when he came out with On the Corner: "Oh, Miles is a traitor. "A traitor, no less! It looks to me like Miles Davis is absolutely locked into the prime directive for ALL jazz musicians, which is "Do your OWN thing and do something different! And I know that was the prime directive he got from Thelonious Monk every single day, and I never EVER heard Thelonious say that John Coltrane was crazy or that Miles Davis was a traitor.

AAJ: Knowing what you know about your father's taste, what do you think would have pleased him the most about this new release?

TSM: Probably the overall sound of the group. Thelonious was very democratic so he'd be talking about how good Coltrane sounds, because Coltrane was a young cat. In today's nomenclature, we clearly would call Coltrane at that age "a young lion. However, listening to John Coltrane at that age, a lot of people will now know what "a young lion truly is!

I think that, as a bandleader, listening to John Coltrane navigate music that most guys couldn't navigate at all—and the only guys that COULD navigate it were the likes of Sonny Rollins and Johnny Griffin and cats like that, the very very cream of the crop—I would be just grinnin' ear-to-ear to myself, about how I got this young cat and he is hooked up and he is in the zone and he is playing MY music and he's playing it better than anybody ever played it before. That's a win-win-win situation as a bandleader, as a mentor, and just as an artist out there plying your craft.

AAJ: Do you have your own children? What is their impression, do you think, of "Grandpop and his music ?

TSM: My son is seventeen and my daughter is nineteen. He's just beginning to really come on their radar because...you know, when I was a kid, my father was sort of two things: He was sort of this famous musician and he was this very special sort of guy within the jazz community itself, but he was famous, people knew who he was. But at that point he wasn't part of pop culture: They hadn't made stamps for him, they weren't naming streets after him, nothing like that. So for them it's been sort of a different reality Grandpa, because Grandpa's so gigantic when they woke up, like an institution.

They couldn't feel it, sort of like how I couldn't feel John Coltrane's importance when I was a kid. It's just now...my daughter went away to her first year of college and all of a sudden it's the first time she's sort of been confronted with the attention from people in the black history department and people in the music department, everybody knows that her grandfather is Thelonious Monk and all that kind of thing. So it's really beginning to sink in.

I thought it was best to not tell them how important he was, just let them grow up around him. I mean, they see him everywhere—they see the stamps and they hear the president mentioning his name. My son has clearly realized that there's absolutely no place on the planet earth he can go and say "My name is Thelonious Monk without someone asking him if they are not related. That's sort of what's happening with them. They know that it's important but substantively they haven't quite gotten it yet because that's a hard thing to get. You need to listen to the music for awhile, for a number of years, because he's considered SO important.

They can sort of understand why he's FAMOUS: he made a lot of records so he was an entertainer. But they're just beginning to understand why he's IMPORTANT, why he's not quite like all the other jazz guys that they see. They've noticed that there's something about Granddaddy and it seems Miles Davis and there's about four names that seem to be super-duper special no matter where you go, and Granddaddy is one of those guys. I don't pressure them because discovering my father on my own was the best thing that ever happened to me.



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