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T.S. Monk Speaks Out

By Published: November 6, 2003
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!

AAJ: I want to take some time to talk about your upcoming release, Higher Ground. This is a very interesting album. Is the band the same you've had throughout the past ten years?

TM: Parts of it. The vibe is the same. The only really new player is the trumpet player Winston Byrd. Byrd joined the band maybe two years ago. He was playing with the Ellington Orchestra and the Stylistics. Dig that double! A great young player. But the other guys, Willie Williams and Porcelli have been with me eleven years, Ray [Gallon] has been around about 4 years, and the bassist about 3 years. I'm a big believer in trying to hold a working ensemble together as long as possible, for any given working ensemble. It's rare that you're going to see me make a record with a new face that hasn't been working with me because I think you have to get to know each other'.I did Monk on Monk in '98. Now Monk on Monk for me'I'm not talking about the audience'for me was like the culmination of almost twenty years of being out here and being Thelonious Monk, Jr.

From the first day I started playing the drums, the first time people heard me play, they all asked, 'Did you play with your father? Do you play your father's music?' Bada-bing-bada-boom. I played with my father for five years. Then I went on and got involved with R & B for damn near 15 years, and that whole time it's still, 'What do you think of your father?' So I came back to jazz. I was surprisingly welcomed back to jazz, and all of a sudden not only do I have a little band going, but I'm actually popular and I'm working and my albums are selling. I got one of the hottest bands and I'm running around the world and still it's, 'You know he's a real fun kid. You should have seen him with his daddy. He's really fun. He did dance albums in the '70s. Great talker, you know he's a good speaker. And he's a good drummer, cat can play, cat can swing but, um, so what are you doing with your father's music?'


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