Thelonious Monk

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Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-1982) was an American jazz pianist, one of the founding figures of Bebop and one of the only jazz musicians to appear on the cover of Time Magazine.

Known for his eccentric timing and adventurous harmony, Monk cut a unique figure in jazz. His style of piano-playing was angular and jagged, without the dexterity found in other famous jazz pianists. However, many critics have claimed that his improvisations show genius in their working-out of new ideas on the spot, rather than a reliance on stock passagework and simple variations of the main tune.

Monk began his career in New York in the 1940s, but did not come into wider fame for various reasons until the 1960s. His wildly successful album Monk's Dream in 1962, combined with a successful tour of Europe and Japan in 1963, and finally his appearance on the cover of Time in 1964, solidified his place among the first rank of musicians.

Some have questioned whether he should be considered a Bebop musician at all - his painstaking melodicism does seem at odds with the virtuosity of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and it may be that ultimately the only thing he shared with them was the desire to reclaim jazz from the commercialism of Swing.

Popular Monk tunes include "Straight, No Chaser," "Well You Needn't," "Epistrophy," "Misterioso," "Blue Monk" and "Round Midnight."


"Thelonious Monk" in New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, ed. by Barry Kernfeld.
Charlotte Zwerin, Thelonious Monk: Straight, no Chaser, (documentary film), 1982.
Leslie Gourse, Straight, No Chaser: The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk, 1998.

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