T.S. Monk Speaks Out
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.
TM: Exactly. It doesn't have the life in it. I'm involved with a biographer. A family biographer that I'm happy to say I became involved with before my mother's passing a year ago because it was very important to me that she approve of something like that. So between all these things that I'm doing I'm still discovering this guy. And more from an artistic perspective as opposed to a father figure. That's been a lot of fun because as an artistic figure'he was a whole lot of fun as a father'but I see more and more why he was so important to so many people. It gets into questions of character and commitment and dedication. It gets into the bedrock of what every jazz musician wants to be. And he was that. When we first started the Monk Institute of Jazz, which'is based in Washington, D.C.'now Washington, D.C. is Duke Ellington-ville'the very first question of the very first interview I ever did for the Institute'was, 'How come this is the Monk Institute and not the Duke Ellington Institute?' That was the very first question I ever got. And you know what I said? I said, 'The reason is because Thelonious represents the quintessential ideal of what every jazz musician ever born wants to be including Duke Ellington.' And that is absolutely unique. Absolutely focused. Never let the bright lights blind you. Stay right on the nitty-gritty tip of the cutting edge of whatever is going on. That's what all of us want to do. And that's what none of us can do. Dizzy can do it now and then. Chick can do it now and then. Two or three cats can do it. Everybody's struggling to do it and we can't do it at all! But Thelonious did it with such ease and grace and dignity that cats like Miles and Max and Bird and Dizzy and everybody gave it up for Monk.