Other Places: Doing Monk

In his blog I Witness, Ed Leimbacher muses about the pervasiveness of Thelonious Monk as a model for or influence on other pianists. In an essay packed with album citations, he acknowledges 18 pianists from Jelly Roll Morton to Keith Jarrett who have made an impact, then writes:

… but I still think that over the last half century Monk has outlasted and out-“performed” the competition. Why? Relatively straightforward numbers like “‘Round (about) Midnight” and “Monk’s Mood” have entered the playbooks of most Jazz pianists and many small groups, in contrast to his obscurities like “Shuffle Boil” or “Green Chimneys.” But even the obscure tunes have their day on some Monk tribute or another (one fan has compiled a list of 60 such albums).
And the irregularity, angularity, repetition, broken tempos, scattered notes, strange chords, surprising melodies–whatever one hears or singles out among Monk’s keyboard habits–seem magnetically to attract other pianists’ fingers. “Shall I prove I can mock Monk effectively, or shall I offer a new interpretation?” That’s the choice facing every pianist (or guitarist, or saxman, or vocalist) contemplating one of his compositions, and all options are to be heard somewhere.

After discussing several pianists and a singer (Carmen McRae), Leimbacher concludes his essay on Monk’s sway with a paean to a big band arranger’s CD, Brilliant Corners: The Music of Thelonious Monk by Bill Holman. He says that Holman “takes off the gloves, grabs hold of Monk’s melodies, pokes and prods and stretches them into new skewed shapes.” To read Mr. Leimbacher’s piece, go here. To comment, use the link below.

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