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Book Reviews

Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original

By Published: October 29, 2009
Kelley's page-turning study is a grand tribute to its subject and also, along the way, to Monk's native state of North Carolina and its lifelong importance to him. Born in 1917, Monk went north in 1922 with his mother, as part of the great black migration, settling in a cramped apartment in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan, on West 63rd Street. Kelley's opening chapter is titled "My Mother Didn't Want Me To Grow Up in North Carolina."



But Monk, the author relates, was never far from his roots. In New York, his mother, other transplanted relatives, and some of his neighbors cooked Carolina cuisine and Monk always loved to play "Carolina Moon." But the connection was most evident in the company he kept in the recording studio and on the road. Fellow Carolina emigrants he enjoyed working with included drummers Max Roach

Max Roach
Max Roach
1925 - 2007
drums
, Albert Heath
Albert Heath
Albert Heath
b.1935
drums
and Billy Kaye, saxophonists Lou Donaldson
Lou Donaldson
Lou Donaldson
b.1926
saxophone
, Charlie Rouse
Charlie Rouse
Charlie Rouse
1924 - 1988
sax, tenor
and Paul Jeffrey, and bassist Percy Heath
Percy Heath
Percy Heath
1923 - 2005
bass, acoustic
. The most momentous partnership, however, was with saxophonist John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
.



Kelley mistakenly states that Coltrane was born and reared in High Point, Carolina, but it's a rare and minor error. Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original—which includes photographs and 100 pages of notes—is highly recommended. It's the story of a supreme survivor, who refused to abandon his principles in search of the American dream. Monk chose rather to achieve that dream through dedicating himself to his art. And he succeeded. He absolutely deserves the title American original, and his legacy and his example deserve to be cherished.



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