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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.
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