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T.S. Monk Speaks Out

By Published: November 6, 2003
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.

I watched the whole process. I can still clearly remember when although within the industry the musicians treated him like god, I remember the ugly, almost vicious reviews he used to get. I remember one said he couldn't play, that he had no piano technique. I remember one said his songs were infantile. I remember all the ugly stuff. To watch it turn around, absolutely and completely, to the point where I'm hard pressed to find anybody over sixty years old and a jazz listener—anywhere'who'll say, 'You know, I didn't dig Thelonious in 1950' As a matter of fact, if every person at this juncture in my life who has told me that they were at the Five Spot Caf' when it all turned around for Monk'the Five Spot Caf' would have had to be the size of Giant's Stadium. Because I can't find nobody now who says they weren't there, you know?


I remember those times. This is wonderful stuff. It's storybook stuff. To watch it happen, to watch your father go from what some people could describe as ridicule and disgrace to almost classic adulation, and to be designated one of the most important musical figure of Western Culture, period. Forget about it, that's it. I'm having a ball! I happen to be the one guy on the planet that can say, 'I lived with this guy for 33 years of my life. Oh yeah, I know what he ate for breakfast and how he acted. What kind of jokes he liked'. I can tell you honestly, that's very, very special. Very few people get the opportunity to spend ten seconds around real genius. I mean the real thing. Certified by everybody, everywhere. I did. That's an honor and a fuckin' privilege.

AAJ: I think what your saying is so important. There's a terrible propensity for myth building. How often do people get around genius? We get such a one-sided view and I think it has a very negative effect on people.

TM: Sure!

AAJ: If you never think about the fact that Monk had a family, and was a father, and laughed and played, then you get a real twisted vision of what you have to be to be a genius.

TM: Yeah. Exactly. I tell people, musicians all over. 'All that weird shit you hear about my father, don't believe that shit.' You see the kind of person I am. I'm Monk's son. I lived with him. He stayed home, so I'm his son. You see what kind of person I am. You see how I talk? Non-stop. He was a non-stop talker. That's how I became a non-stop talker. Listening to my father I'd say, 'God, is he ever going to shut-up?' When I read about 'Monk didn't like to talk' I've been laughing at that since I was twelve years old. What they don't write in that sentence is 'Monk did not talk. To me.' You know?


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