All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Highly Opinionated

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

9

Who Needs Monk?

Patrick Burnette By

Sign in to view read count
In practical terms, songs based on familiar progressions give musicians an entry-point to unfamiliar music. In creative terms, it's surprising how often working within a set of constraints inspires artistic achievement. Monk didn't shy away from writing thorny, challenging, nearly unplayable tunes from time to time, and there's no reason modern musicians should either. But it can't hurt to have a contrafact or two in your portfolio. Writing one might unlock some unexpected inspiration.

Lesson Four: The greatest jazz composers also played other people's music.

The all-originals album is an increasingly common occurrence in jazz, but it was an anomaly back in the day. It was the rare Monk recording that didn't include at least one cover. One might look at this as a necessary commercial concession—a record company or manager asking him to include something familiar to soothe his challenged audience. Whatever the motive, Monk's covers give the listener insight into his identity. He does not play the usual suspect Great American Songbook tunes—he plays songs that you can tell have a personal meaning for him just by opening your ears. "Just a Gigolo." "There's Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie." "I Surrender, Dear." And don't forget the hymns—"Abide with Me," and the recently reissued "By and By."

No artist creates in a vacuum. Each is nurtured in a particular cultural context. Each is introduced to the beauty of music in a different way. The first or second tune that gets stuck in your head and fascinates you might not, from a mature prospective, be a profound piece of music. That doesn't make it less part of you.

It is surprising how many contemporary jazz artists give the impression of being raised in a cultural bubble, as if their first musical experience was taking advanced composition at Berkley rather than grooving to a song on Youtube, Spotify, the radio, a parent or friend's record collection... Cover songs are a way of reaching an audience, but if chosen carefully they can also reveal something profound about an artist. Monk's Music is arguably Thelonious' single greatest album and most profound statement of who he is as an artist. It begins with a hymn.

So there you have it—four aspects of Monk's career as a player/composer that might offer lessons for today's young musicians. Maybe they won't all apply—or appeal to you. If so, it may still be worth your while to think of one.

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

CD/LP/Track Review
The Art and Science of Jazz
History of Jazz
In Pictures
Highly Opinionated
Best of / Year End
Read more articles
Mønk

Mønk

Gearbox Records
2018

buy
Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960

Les Liaisons...

Sam Records
2017

buy
Newport '59

Newport '59

Concert Vault
2013

buy
Paris 1969

Paris 1969

Blue Note / Capitol
2013

buy
 

The Ultimate...

Sony Music
2012

buy
 

Anthology

Sony Music
2011

buy

Related Articles

Read Who Needs Monk? Highly Opinionated
Who Needs Monk?
by Patrick Burnette
Published: December 13, 2017
Read Jazz Karaoke anyone? Highly Opinionated
Jazz Karaoke anyone?
by David Hadley Ray
Published: August 3, 2017
Read Dusseldorf Rally: Jazz's Best Kept Secret? Highly Opinionated
Dusseldorf Rally: Jazz's Best Kept Secret?
by Phillip Woolever
Published: May 16, 2016
Read The New Orleans All-Star Brass Band: Do You Know What It Means? Highly Opinionated
The New Orleans All-Star Brass Band: Do You Know What It...
by Ian Patterson
Published: September 2, 2015
Read Sing a Mean Tune, Kid: Chicago for people who hate Chicago Highly Opinionated
Sing a Mean Tune, Kid: Chicago for people who hate Chicago
by Mark Lempke
Published: June 7, 2014
Read Sacred Cows, Led Zeppelin and Does the Song Remain the Same? Highly Opinionated
Sacred Cows, Led Zeppelin and Does the Song Remain the Same?
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: April 20, 2013
Read "Who Needs Monk?" Highly Opinionated Who Needs Monk?
by Patrick Burnette
Published: December 13, 2017
Read "Mark Corroto's Best Releases of 2017" Best of / Year End Mark Corroto's Best Releases of 2017
by Mark Corroto
Published: December 14, 2017
Read "Tomas Fujiwara: The More the Better" Interviews Tomas Fujiwara: The More the Better
by Troy Dostert
Published: November 6, 2017
Read "Tal Wilkenfeld Live At The Belly Up Tavern" SoCal Jazz Tal Wilkenfeld Live At The Belly Up Tavern
by Jim Worsley
Published: November 21, 2017
Read "Michael Blicher: Groove is in the Heart" Catching Up With Michael Blicher: Groove is in the Heart
by Mark Youll
Published: February 27, 2018
Read "Time in Jazz 2018 - Day Concerts" In Pictures Time in Jazz 2018 - Day Concerts
by Roberto Cifarelli
Published: September 15, 2018
Read "The Original Delaney & Bonnie (Accept No Substitute) and To Bonnie From Delaney" Multiple Reviews The Original Delaney & Bonnie (Accept No Substitute)...
by Doug Collette
Published: December 23, 2017