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Brother Thelonious Re-Released At California North Coast Jazz and Ale House

Arthur R George By

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The Sequoia Room is the northernmost outpost for jazz clubs away from all the cities in California. From Fort Bragg the coast runs virtually uninterrupted all the way to Canada, with brief exceptions for Portland and Seattle.
"Brother Thelonious," an ale named in tribute to pianist Thelonious Monk using a Belgian Trappist brew style, is flowing again out of the North Coast Brewing Company in Fort Bragg, California and its jazz-devoted performance venue, The Sequoia Room. An intermission in production occurred after a dispute between North Coast Brewing and the Estate of the late Thelonious Monk, now resolved, over the use of Monk's image promoting the ale and related products. The Estate, represented by Monk's son drummer T.S. Monk, and North Coast Brewing settled the matter in November, resuming sales and royalties for jazz education, now to the Monterey Jazz Festival instead of what had been the legacy Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

Separately, however, that Institute, created by T.S. Monk with others, ceased using Thelonious Monk's name, after a 30-year relationship. The Monk Institute had been a strong force for jazz education, and the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition had become a brand name for one of the most influential showcases of rising talent. Going forward effective January 1, the institute and its competition have been re-named in honor of Herbie Hancock, and the Estate will pursue its own course to perpetuate Monk's legacy and jazz education.

Gale Monk, T.S.'s wife and business manager for the Estate, explained that the separation from the Institute resulted from differences between T.S. and individuals within the Institute, and the directions chosen by the Institute. Ultimately, she said, these caused the Estate to remove the Monk family name from association with the Institute. Thomas R. Carter, the institute's president and co-founder, told The New York Times that "The Monk family requested that they would like to use the name in other directions, and we decided that we would abide by their wishes."

Monk Matters

North Coast Brewing has had a long history with things Monkish. For more than ten years it made the Brother Thelonious ale, featuring an image of Thelonious Monk on the label. In its beta versions in-house, the potion was called "monk," aspiring to that as made by Trappist monks from the Middle Ages onward. One of the staff recalled her days in Catholic school where the priests called each other brother; soon the jazz-loving collective synapses clicked and the brother/monk connection became Brother Thelonious.

The label design by a Fort Bragg artist played off an image of a bearded Thelonious Monk in sunglasses and hat, holding a goblet, cloaked in a robe, and graced with a halo of piano keys, as if a sainted monk in a religious painting (view). The brew and its branding obtained the blessing of T.S. Monk and the Monk Institute, with an agreement that portions of sales would be donated to the Institute.

In 2015, T.S. and his sextet opened the Sequoia Room after it had been remodeled and expanded, and supported other jazz education programs connected to Brother Thelonious. The Monk Institute Performing Arts High School All-Stars ventured west to the Sequoia Room, to give them the life experience of being musicians on the road as well as in classroom and studio.

However, also in 2015, T.S. and the Institute parted ways, and in 2016 T.S. sought to alter the relationship with North Coast Brewing, with all payments to be made to the Monk Estate rather than to the Monk Institute. Meanwhile, the widow of the label artwork's designer separately filed suit, claiming that she held the underlying copyright on the image and was entitled to compensation. Her suit was dismissed by a judge last November. All of this was occurring in the years around the 2017 centennial anniversary of Monk's birth. A new, similar but different label (view) for the ale has been created, still featuring an image of Thelonious Monk, proclaiming "bottled bebop" supporting jazz education.

Making Music, Making Beer

The Sequoia Room is the northernmost outpost for jazz clubs away from all the cities in California. Fort Bragg is a former fishing and lumber port town, right on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. From there the coast runs virtually uninterrupted all the way to Canada, with brief exceptions for Portland and Seattle.

With only 70 seats, the Sequoia Room is pleasantly intimate for artists and audience, wood-paneled in a Craftsman style, uncrowded, and comfortable. It was designed to be an "atmosphere for musicians to give their best performances" according to North Coast Brewing's vice-president Doug Moody. During the first 18 months of its operation, weekly post-mortems after each concert reviewed and adjusted the room and sound. The brightness of the space can be tuned with sound-absorbing window shades; outside through glass windows is a wood-fenced rock garden and beyond that a broad plateau dropping down to the Pacific Ocean. Video monitors provide overhead views of pianists' hands or drummers' kits.

Name performers such as Helen Sung, Grace Kelly, Gerald Clayton, Vincent Herring, Benny Green, Lewis Nash, Joe Locke, Jeremy Pelt, and Jane Bunnett and her all-female Afro-Cuban band Maqueque have all found their way to the Sequoia Room. Guitarist Roni Ben-Hur and trumpeter David Weiss have separate appointments there in late March and mid-April, respectively. It is about 170 miles and four hours from engagements in the San Francisco Bay Area, through long but scenic drives that will encompass vineyards, deep redwood forests, and the coast. Regional and local talents fill out the calendar every Friday and Saturday evening, but always with jazz. Drawing from an overflow of available talent and interest for a town of only 6,000 people, the Headlands Coffee House just a block away also books live music, often jazz, seven nights a week.

Pianist Helen Sung has had a particularly close relationship with both North Coast Brewing and the music of Thelonious Monk. She has appeared at the Sequoia Room every autumn since 2015, and played there in T.S. Monk's sextet. She was director of a three-day Monk festival at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York last year, and appeared in a three-pianist retrospective of Monk's work at SFJAZZ in San Francisco in October.

Sung's classical training was transformed in the direction of jazz when she was accepted as a student in the first class of the Monk Institute at the New England Conservatory of Music in 1995. Her teachers included a number of Thelonious Monk's contemporaries: Clark Terry, Jackie McLean, Jimmy Heath, and Barry Harris. In 1999, she was a semi-finalist in the Institute's piano competition. North Coast Brewing commissioned a piano piece by Sung titled "Brother Thelonious" related to the brew which has since become part of her repertoire and was included as the initial track on her 2014 album Anthem for a New Day.

In 2009, Sung was part of the Brother Thelonious Quintet, formed by North Coast Brewing for the purpose of making a one-time CD with all the proceeds dedicated to the Monk Institute. It was produced by T.S. Monk and North Coast Brewing's Doug Moody, recorded at Avatar Studios in New York, and featured Sung and five other graduates of the Monk Institute: Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Wayne Escoffery (tenor saxophone), Alan Hampton (bass), James Alsenders (drums), and vocalist Gretchen Parlato on one track. The group recorded six Monk compositions and four original tracks. In 2012, North Coast Brewing produced another CD, Baritone Monk, of Thelonious Monk compositions played by baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, with all proceeds also donated to the Monk Institute.

Doug Moody has been a jazz fan for years, so much a fanatic that as a young man he once retrieved a cigarette butt Wes Montgomery had extinguished in an ashtray, and kept it as a holy relic for decades. Seeing Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis live, he recalls, were life-changing events for him. When he moved to Fort Bragg after retiring from the financial industry, he wanted to create something for himself, something for the Fort Bragg community, and something for musicians. Hence, the jazz room; he built it, with brewmaster partner Mark Ruedrich, and people have come.

Founded in 1988, and originally working out of a converted mortuary, North Coast Brewing has made a big splash in craft brewing far from Fort Bragg. It has been the official brewery partner of several jazz festivals including Newport and Monterey, won dozens of awards, and been named one of the top ten breweries in the world. Its beers and ales are sold in 48 states and around the world. Doug Moody put long promotional miles on his Toyota Camry XLE sedan, purchased in response to the automaker's promotional support for jazz, over a "JAZZALE" license plate. The manufacturing plant, restaurant, tap room, beer sales shops, and Sequoia Room are now landmarks along Fort Bragg's Main Street.

Moody said that approximately 25 per cent of gross revenue on the Brother Thelonious ale and about 20 per cent of net proceeds on related promotional items had been donated to the Monk Institute. Similar donations, he said, will now be earmarked for the education programs of the Monterey Jazz Festival. North Coast Brewing already last year built an education stage on the Monterey festival grounds. Although it makes up to 30 different craft brews, the suspension of Brother Thelonious impacted not only North Coast Brewing but jazz festivals and other settings which benefited from beverage sales under the Brother Thelonious banner. Moody said that Brother Thelonious had been 12 per cent of North Coast Brewing's total ale sales.

North Coast Brewing contributes to a variety of environmental and community organizations in its northern California green-sensitive locale, but Moody said the company's first philanthropic check went to local jazz education in Fort Bragg. In an era where financial support for the arts is at a low ebb, he said, business support for the arts is critical, and jazz is the art form to which North Coast Brewing makes its biggest commitment. As much as Brother Thelonious honors the past, Moody emphasizes that jazz must be supported in present time with attendance at live concerts and support for the next generation; hence the emphasis on jazz education.

T.S. Monk as well continues to perform around the world with his sextet and 10-piece big band interpreting his father's music, teaching in classes and seminars, and re-configuring jazz to younger tastes. Gale Monk said Monk festivals are planned for Jazz at Lincoln Center and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center with participation by the Estate.

Distant, But Not So Remote

Fort Bragg retains a rustic vibe, established as a long-gone pre-Civil War army garrison. Music there is more typically folk, rock, or country. Jazz would seem to be an afterthought, except for that which people bring with them while driving or encounter in little restaurants, lodges, and cafes scattered in small towns up and down the coast, and arts and jazz festivals in ever more rustic villages.
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