T.S. Monk Speaks Out
TM: No, no, it's funny because I was looking at some pictures the other day of my father at a fund raiser with Ed Sullivan in a tuxedo, things like that. A lot of things that all artists do in the early parts of their careers that no one pays attention to'for anybody'you know?(laughing) We tend to lock into people when they come up on our radar and assume that's who they are. So for most people Thelonious is this austere, somewhat aloof figure. That unapproachable, irascible, and all that kind of stuff. Hey, man, he was a young guy out there trying to get over for a lot of years, man, and that involves doing a whole lot of things that every jazz musician today whose in the position to have a gig knows they had to do too' Jackie McLean was telling me about when he was sixteen years old. He had met Thelonious the year before when he was fifteen years old and he had a wedding to do, and he didn't have a pianist so he called his best friend at the time, a young drummer who was playing with Thelonious'Arthur Taylor'so he called AT and says, 'Man, I really need a pianist for this gig. I'm really stuck, stuckstuckstuck' and AT says, 'Well, call Monk!' And Jackie looks at him and says, 'What are you crazy? Whaddya mean call Monk? Call Thelonious Monk? This is a wedding.' And AT said, 'You know what, man? Thelonious is a musician who loves to play the music, and if he digs you it doesn't matter what kind of gig it is. It's music, right? Call him.' And Jackie McLean called him and they did that wedding.
AAJ: The They-Come-Out-of-Nowhere phenomenon. That's what I call it. Every artist has to come out of nowhere. That's the way Americans like it. You bust your ass for years, and you're doing this and that, and finally you get some recognition and suddenly it's 'First Time Writer' or whatever. No, no, you've been doing this all your life.
TM: It's amazing.
AAJ: You're obviously very involved with your father's music. Some people would have gone a very different way, tried to distance themselves from it and I'm wondering'
TM: How did that happen? Well, I'll tell you. First of all, Thelonious'as were all of his friends, despite this very, very, gloomy, dark sort of gothic reality that has been created by back issues of down beat magazine, critics, and writers who couldn't get near any of these guys'all I remember my friends doing when he was with Miles, or Dizzy or Art, do you know what they were doing when they weren't playing? They were laughing and joking just like all the musicians you know. When they ain't playing, they're like children! Cracking jokes and laughing at each other, and talking about all kinds of silly shit. So it was a lot of fun for me.
Maybe that's what's unusual because Thelonious had me and my sister around all the time. See he liked me to be with him when he was with his boys. He liked to have the crew and his family together at the same time. So I didn't have anything but a good time. For me, remembering my father whether I'm remembering him musically'from playing with him'or just as dad, I always remember a lot of fun. A lot of laughing. A lot of joking. I don't remember a whole lot of downtime. This serious guy that people talk about, 'Well you don't say anything to Monk.' I don't even know who people are talking about. So for me, this is a ridiculous continuation of a story that's so much fun! Nobody has the right to have a story like this to talk about for an entire lifetime. I do! It's a great gift. For me, demystifying him for people, telling people what he was really like, that shit is a whole lot of fun because Thelonious has been elevated to the highest level you can be on this planet. I mean, when people say, 'This guy, we want to hear him for the next who knows how many hundred years.' That's reserved for the Beethovens, the Duke Ellingtons, maybe for the Stevie Wonders and Paul McCartneys, and the Thelonious Monks. It's a very small group of people. And even right now, some of the people that I mentioned that are my contemporaries, I don't really know for sure if people will be listening to the Beatles two hundred years from now. But I'm pretty sure they'll be listening to Thelonious Monk because he got into people's bones, man. It's really freaky.