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T.S. Monk Speaks Out

By Published: November 6, 2003
TM: He certainly talked to John Coltrane. He certainly talked to Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie. A whole list of players have written, and rewritten, and interviewed and re-interviewed about what a major influence Monk was in their life. Well, it's because he talked a lot. People think that jazz musicians spend a lot of time talking about music. But they don't really. They play the music. You talk about life. Then you try to tell the story of your life through the music. It's just a vehicle

AAJ: I think another element was that the environment was so different.

TM: Oh yes.

AAJ: The separation between the players and the writers, the critics, and the audience was much vaster in a lot of ways.

TM: Oh, humongous'just remember, there was the same political dynamic we saw raise it's head when Punk Rock came out. Even when Rock n'Roll came out. Be-bop was almost like anti-jazz when it came about.

AAJ: Weren't there even people who suggested it shouldn't even be labeled jazz anymore?

TM: Oh definitely. The only major artist they ever got to speak negatively about it was'unfortunately'Louis Armstrong. But that was a political thing. And even to this day the jazz community doesn't hold that against Louis. Louis opened the door for all of us. That was at the end of his career'it doesn't count for me. It doesn't count for a lot of musicians. But there was a political dynamic to the music. These guys were anti-establishment, that's why the music got driven into holes in the ground.

AAJ: And it was anti-establishment before anti-establishment was cool.

TM: Yeah, exactly. It really didn't get cool until the sixties. And then all of those so-called Be-boppers ended up being the artistic sustenance of the intellectual youth that came up in the sixties and changed the whole god damn world!

AAJ: That's right. I have to ask this. Have you thought of doing your own biography?

TM: No, man, I'm only fifty-three. I ain't lived long enough'.There's more to know, more to learn. Just since I started this label. Come on! The original goal of the label, my mantra was 'I'm going to get the cottage industry of Thelonious Monk under Thelonious Monk's umbrella'. I was looking around at all the records, the T-shirts, pins, buttons, hats, all these things that I don't get paid for. And Dizzy don't get paid for. And Miles. There are a couple of people we deal with that are legit, but for the most part jazz has been free pickings for merchandizing, for piracy, all that kind of stuff. There's only one way to go for the records, you can't sue these people. But you can compete with them. And if the word is out there that this is the guy, this is the real thing. You know where the people are going to go because the loyalty of the jazz community is absolutely phenomenal. So in the process of the last few years, collecting pictures, videos, live tapes, legal tapes, all this stuff, I've learned even more about my dad that I didn't know. ..So I'm saying, man, these genius guys are really, really busy. There's a lot to know.

So I'm having a ball right now because I'm at a juncture in my life where I've garnered enough respect that a different level of people are talking to me about my father. Whether it's writers or journalists, they're talking to me about him in a different way. Other than, 'What was it like to grow up in a house of music?' So this has been a lot of fun. I'm still a couple years away from a biography. But I will do that. I'll do it simply because there's no one else to do it, so I gotta do it. I remember when Bird died all of a sudden there was a Charlie Parker society, but there weren't no Charlie Parker people involved in it. Just a bunch of people who liked Charlie Parker'When my father died my sister said, 'We're going to have to be the caretakers of the actual legacy of Thelonious Monk in every way right down to the things that are written about him from this point forward.' The whole process for me began with my involvement in Straight No Chaser and it's been me ever since. There's a lot to talk about. But I will do it, because it needs to be done. At this point still'but for the movie'Charlie Parker is a sound. All these millions of people who love Charlie Parker know him as a sound coming out of a horn. They don't know he was probably the most articulate jazz musician that ever lived. He sounded like a Harvard graduate. They don't really know about his whole history with Jay McShann and how he really became Bird. They just know he was this wonderful player, and he was a junky.

AAJ: And even the things that have been done, that are available, have been packaged in a certain way.

TM: They've been packaged in a certain way by certain kinds of people with certain agendas.

AAJ: Even the real hardcore academic stories may have it a little more accurate, but it doesn't have the life in it.

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