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Highly Opinionated

Crepuscule with Thelonious

By Published: February 14, 2008
This is pure genius to me at eight. I want more. The air is thick and smoky. Glasses clinking. Monks feet are tapping out the next number. Christian vamps "Guy's Got To Go." Irreverent and bebopping. They bounce in and out of the groove and you cannot tell when they will return from the sonic expedition. But they do. Monk pulls hard on his cigarette. Klook and Finton don't waste anytime: "Lip's Flip." The new song breaks out of an old classic. The guys have pulled on the audience. Another tongue in cheek sonic escape from the brutality outside. Christian whips this melody around as they head into the back-straight. Monk hits a dissonant chord. splayed left hand and then a brilliant run as he signals Finton and Klook to bring the guys home.

Word of the genius spreads. New York is abuzz. Not only about Christian, but about Klook and Monk, as well. The media want a piece of the action. So do the cops, as usual. Monk is dancing to the sounds he hears in his head. He is beginning to see music as well. His vision is horizontal and vertical. He sees also the space in between the sounds. He sees all of the song... as completely as he hears it. Its history and geography. He hears more than the math and science of the sound—he hears the whole sound. He hears the COMPLETE STRUCTURE of the song, not merely the notes and their sequences and intervals, but the COMPLETE ARCHITECTURE of the song. No one on God's earth hears music this way. No one can compose and/or play music this way. Dizzy knows that. So does Bird. And Klook. Now Bud becomes an acolyte.

So also does Lucky Millinder in 1942. And Bean, who employs Monk from 1943 to 1945; then Dizzy who kicks it bop-style through a big band through 1946. But for most, this is too much! Genius is always scary.

The gig's up for now. Monk cracks a rare smile and he disappears into the darkness across 52nd Street.

Monk reinvents sonic architecture. The cops have other plans, but nothing can stop Monk. He records furiously. Shadow Wilson, Wilbur Ware, Pettiford and Blakey fatten the rhythm. Monk can do without everyone, really. He has perfected time. Alfred Lion takes a chance and launches Monk on the scene. Genius meets music. Monk is happy and unstoppable. He records furiously, then.

Monk gets up from his piano-stool. He walks about in a shambling sort of way. He is shuffling his feet. He is happy. He has plans. Back on the piano-stool, he strikes the ebony and ivory boldly. The sound flows magnificently, tumbling down and sideways. Melody dances. Harmony is another story and Monk tells it from the centre of his soul. He is dancing in ever-widening circles now. Dancing inside his head. And you can see it as his hands fly across the keyboard. On and on he goes, traversing continents dark and light. He ends the song as beautifully and surprisingly as he started it and writes down: "Well You Needn't." Then he rises from his piano stool again and dances down out of the room past the booth and down a darkened corridor. His shoulder bumps into a photo frame on a wall in the hallway: Alfred Lion on a fishing trip! The frame tilts to a jaunty angle. Monk looks at it. Thinks he'll straighten it, then decides against it and records the thought.

Notes flow. Gush in a torrent through his head. He dances in a circle until the music stops. Adjusts his hat. Then he lights up and begins to play. In the control booth they hear him and start to tweak the knobs. Blakey joins in. Idrees Suleiman. Monk holds up his hand and orders them to stop. Everyone is quiet. He says something, but only the musicians can hear. Then Blakey counts off. then rat-a-tat... swish... tish! Monk drops his hand on C, follows this with an augmented chord. then crosses right hand over left striking a couple of notes on the bass clef. "Monk's Mood."

This is the way to start it. No! This way. They stop. Monk explains his view. The group begins again. Tapes' rolling.


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