Monkadelphia: All Monk, All the Time
A recent reading of Robin D.G. Kelley's definitive biography, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, and an All About Jazz interview with Professor Kelley , led to a meeting with some members of Monkadelphia to learn more about them and their take on Monk's unique music and personality.
- Monkadelphia: The Beginnings
- The Monkadelphia Magic
- Monk's Music
- Monkadelphia Now
- Monk and His Cohorts
- Monk's Contribution to the Jazz Legacy
- Thelonious Monk's Unique Persona
- Nica de Koenigswarter and Jazz Groupies
- Concluding Reflections
- The Monkadelphia Magic
Monkadelphia: The Beginnings
All About Jazz: How was the group Monkadelphia conceived?
Tony Miceli: I initiated the idea of a group only because I wanted to work with Tom Lawton and John Swana. It turned out the two of them had already been talking about starting a group playing only Monk's music. This was years ago, and at the time I didn't like Monk very much, though it was based on ignorance, but I was a good organizer and I wanted to play with these guys. Jim Miller got into it, and then Micah Jones came on board. So I said to them, let's start, let's find a place to perform where they let us play what and how we want. Everybody thought that was a good idea. So we ended up at a little place called Silk City.
Jim Miller: I remember how I got into it. Tony and I were doing a Jazz Vespers gig in Villanova, and Tony said, "Do you want to be in a rehearsal band?"
TM: Yeah, you said something about Monk, and then...
JM: Yeah, and then I asked, "Do you guys do 'Off Minor'?" I was trying to name some obscure ones, and you said, "Yeah," and I said "Criss Cross," and you said "Yeah," and I said "Trinkle Tinkle," "Yeah," and I said, "OK! I'm in!"
TM: Actually, I didn't even know what those songs were at that time.
JM: You were bullshitting?
TM: I was totally bullshitting you [laughter]! I can tell you with all truth that I didn't know anything about Monk. I might have heard something about him on the radio, but that was it. So when you mentioned those tunes, I didn't know what you were talking about. I was just trying to get us together as a band.
Tom Lawton: And I have no perspective on whether it was seven or ten years ago that we started.
JM: The live recording we did at Rowan University was in 1999.
TM: So we probably started in 1996. We played at Silk City every week for about two years. It was a somewhat bizarre place where everybody had tattoos.
JM: And they had Vampire Night, remember that?
TL: And maybe five people would come, but we'd play anyhow.
TM: We'd play two hours straight, one set instead of two.
AAJ: Who else was in the group at that time besides the three of you? John Swana?
TM: He guested sometimes.
TL: And Ben Schachter sometimes did the early performances. Butch Reed did an early one. However, it wasn't an organized group at the time. It was a "Monk session."
AAJ: Which of you was heavily into Monk at the time?
TL: Me and Jim.
JM: One of the first jazz albums I ever bought was when I was in high school, and I had to take a bus, and there was a record store right there in Indianapolis, and I would haunt that record store. I was looking at all the pop records, and then I wandered over to the jazz section, and I knew absolutely nothing about jazz, but I did notice that Monk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Sun Ra had to be the best because they had the most records in their bin sections. And I remember buying the Monk album just for the cover, and it was Underground (Columbia, 1968). It had a great coverI knew nothing about Thelonious Monk as such. That was, now that I think of it, the second jazz album I bought. The first was Art Tatum, God is in the House (HighNote, 1973), and I bought that for a similar reason: boy if they're callin' this guy God, he must be good.
AAJ: Were you immediately taken by Monk after that?
JM: I liked the tune, "In Walked Bud," because it had words. I was playin' in the jazz group at school, but wasn't listening to jazz records very much.
AAJ: Getting back to the group, you were doing some Monk "sessions," but when did you actually form a group dedicated to Monk?
TL: I think a few weeks into it, it ended up being a pretty stable group with the three of us and Chris Farr and Micah Jones.
JM: I know that the first time I participated, you guys already had all the music. You already had the charts.
AAJ: Do you ever play anything other than Monk?
TL: No, not in this particular group.
TM: And just to set the record straight from what I said before, as soon as we jelled, I began buying Monk CDs and realized it was heavy music. But at the time I just wanted to play. That's my M.O. My whole life, I just wanted to play, whatever it was that came up.
AAJ: But when you first started listening to Monk, when you said "heavy," did you mean it was hard to understand, or that it was really good?
TM: Well for one thing, I thought by that time I already had a handle on chord changes, and this was only fifteen years ago, but they're playing these Monk tunes, and I'm steppin' on myself all over the place, and I really had no clue. I really had to pay attention to the melody now, and it was difficult playing his music, which I thought was bebop, but I really couldn't do it at first.
JM: Seethat's exactly the thing! How Monk got to be called the "High Priest of Bebop" is astounding, because his music is not bebop.
AAJ: That's a very important issue that I want to go over a bit later.
TM: But, getting back to what I was saying, I did fall in love with Monk's music. Looking back, my initial confusion was based on total ignorance.
TL: Dave Liebman once guested with us at the Deerhead Inn, and even a brilliant musician like him told us it took him a long time to get into Monk.
AAJ: Even in Monk's time, the complexity of his music initially confused people a lot. Some of the most experienced and highly regarded players couldn't get it, and couldn't make it with his groups.