In the early 70s when I was anchoring at Channel 11 in New York, I took a film crew (remember film?) to Lincoln Center to do a feature about the Giants Of Jazz, the group with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Stitt, Kai Winding, Al McKibbon and Art Blakey. Let’s set the scene with a piece written by Monk and introduced by Gillespie on the band’s 1971 world tour.
Returning to New York during the same period, the Giants were rehearsing in late morning for a concert. We did the filming and interviews and afterward the band, the crew and assorted Lincoln Centerites milled around and socialized onstage. I knew everyone in the group, but Monk. Dizzy brought him over and introduced us. Monk stood staring into my eyes, expressionless. I remember thinking how big he was. Time passed, maybe a minute that seemed like five. Still no expression. Gillespie stood by, grinning. Then Monk put his hand out and shook mine. It was like something out of a Tuesday Rotary Club meeting. He broke into a grin and said, “I’m very pleased to meet you.” That’s what we should have filmed. Later, Diz told me, “I’ve never seen him do that before.” For at least a few minutes, he wasn’t the Thelonious described by Lewis Lapham in a lovely piece for The Saturday Evening Post in 1964.
The Lapham article, a long one, is now online. To read it, go here.