T.S. Monk Speaks Out
You never heard anybody say anything about Monk but, 'Damn! That's Monk'. That's what we all want to be. That's what I want people to say, 'That's T.S. Monk' Put on my records and walk by and say, 'That's T.S. Monk' That's what we all dream of as jazz musicians and Thelonious did it. And he did it through thick and thin. He did it when the money was there and when the money wasn't there. He did it when it was the thing to do and he did it when it wasn't the thing to do, by the end of the late sixties. In retrospect'and I saw it the day he died'everybody said, 'Oh shit. Monk died.' It cut right to the core of everybody in a different way than Dizzy. In a different way from Miles. In a different way from all these people, because when he died it fucked them up while they were alive. I know it. I used to see it when I was a little kid. All these guys were around then. They were just young musicians. What I did notice is they all had their own little universe walking around. You know, Miles used to come over to the house and used to knock on the door like a child. I would open the door, and I'd be looking up and (imitates a nervous voice) 'uh,uh,uh, is Thelonious in. Can I come inside? Tell him I'm out here' And he would come in the house, man. My father might be lying on the bed and he'd sit there tinkling on the piano for four hours if it took four hours for Thelonious to come out of the room. And I said, 'this guy that came through the door is weird. There's some special stuff going on with him. But there's really some special stuff going on with daddy. Because all these guys, when they get around daddy they start acting funny'. This is how a little kid sees it. I remember seeing it like that. 'These guys act really funny all the time. But then when they get in a room with daddy, they act a different kind of funny, and it's like he's the only one that's funny.' It was really, really weird. So I saw this early on. It's some special, special stuff. I see why he's held on high.
Now, at this juncture, having had my own jazz group for ten years and spun around the jazz world several times'both figuratively and literally'and seeing the exact same response to the name Thelonious Monk in South Africa, down in Rio, that I get in Tokyo and San Francisco, or that I get in Paris or Saskatoon, or Sidney. I mean, man, this is over the top.
AAJ: You hear it every day, so I might as well add my voice to it. I think it was Monk that brought me into jazz. Along with Tony Williams.
TM: A lot of people say that. And by the way, thank you for mentioning my man who is the master of the fifth house of jazz drumming which people don't talk about yet. I don't know why, although his disciples are everywhere'.yet people do not talk about the importance, the magnitude, or the influence of Tony Williams. He's unbelievable! There's an entire generation of imitators. But you know, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, so what the hell. I just absolutely adore Tony. He's one of those cats where I say, 'I ain't never going to play like that, but I sure do now exactly what he's playing. He's playing some very special stuff.' I'think it was a great tragedy that we lost Tony Williams all of a sudden the way we did because he was just about to make a come back. People don't know what a great writer, and arranger and all the other things Tony was. When Miles broke up that band, Herbie was grown, Wayne was grown, Ron was grown, but Tony was still a kid. It took him thirty years to figure it all out'man, he was a baby when that band broke up. I'm surprised he didn't commit suicide.
I don't know if I would have known what to do, or had the wherewithal to figure out what to do at the end of the day. But he figured it out. I think it was only a month or two before his death'you know at the Institute we did a'T.V. special where we were able to bring Tony, Wayne, Ron and Herbie together for the last time. We didn't know that at the time. We thought it was the beginning'and they were groovin' on it'and for him to be taken from us like that, what a drag, man. What a drag. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get side-tracked like that.
AAJ: No problem. It was really Williams that got me started. I even remember the album. Filles des Killamanjaro. I bought it just to hear Tony, actually. And that led me to all the rest. To Monk. It was Monk for a long, long time.
TM:Aren't you lucky, man! Do you realize how lucky you are to have run into those two guys? For your ears to actually get it from those two artists initially? That sets you up to hear all kinds of shit! And to recognize bullshit when you hear it. A lot of groovy shit comes from starting in the right places. I tell people all the time that if you start in the wrong place you can be fucked up for a lifetime listening to some wrong stuff, but if you start in the right place and your ears get tweaked properly on day one, man, skies the limit!