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Monk's Trumpets

Matt Lavelle By

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What I believe it revealed in this examination is that Monk had a unique understanding of the trumpet, in some ways more than the players themselves. As revealed recently by his son T.S Monk, the trumpet was his father's as well as his own first instrument! At the core, a common challenge that all trumpet players face is how the technical difficulties of the instrument work in the context of playing chord changes. The harmonic world of Thelonious Monk deepens this challenge. The trumpet is known as the melody instrument, but in Monk's world, many musicians let the chord structure lead the way, often not realizing that Monk's harmonic movement is melodic as well. Monk's melodies are often so personal and pianistic that one wonders how they can be translated, or spoken on trumpet. Thad Jones emerges as the trumpet player who went deeper than all others. Still, no trumpet player reached Charlie Rouse's status as the lone horn on extensive recordings and live performances. The tenor just seems to naturally sound correct in Monk's music with its particular range and sound. Of course, it's more than the instrument; it was Charlie Rouse himself who made it work, partially because while he was present, the musical spotlight was still on Monk himself. John Coltrane and Johnny Griffin had a way of pulling the ear in their direction. Here in 2017, in my own Harmelodic Monk project, I'm seeking a new perspective on Monk's music based entirely on melody. I believe Monk's music to contain secrets to the inner workings of jazz that scholarship cannot teach, secrets that can only be reached by playing. I imagine Monk's music will guide musicians to their philosophical centers for many years to come. As Monk himself said, he liked all instruments as long as they were played right.


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