I like monks. Not sure about Theloniouses, but monks I like. It shows a certain level of dedication, a certain chosen path and declared raIson-d'ettre , a reason for being. Of course there is a great deal of difference between your religion type monks and the creative type monks, the later of course being much more fun and interesting, but a monk is a monk is a monk.
and Thelonious was a monk. A real one.
What he did to these pure piano keys was nothing less than the glory of music, with the wrath of chords and the gospel of groove, all rolled into one baptism of pure jazz.
All musicians are subconsciously mathematicians "
I chose 'brilliant corners' as the title for this article not because it is my favorite monk track, but because I see it as the most "monk" monk track. If a saxophone could chant, and a piano can recite endless kuans then this is how it would sound. A philosophical discussion between the instruments, questions and answers, repetitive mantras and a whole lot of light.
When I try to find out the secret to monk's playing and arrangements I find myself going around in circles, again like that old Zen monk in walking meditation, as I never manage to put my finger on what it is that makes him so monkish, and so revered by musicians anywhere, even outside of the boundaries of the jazz fans world.
I don't know what other people are doing - I just know about me."
There are a lot of stories about monk's eccentric behavior, starting from the cloths and hats to the playing mannerism and personal life. One of the stories I like most , and that strengthens my belief in him as a true monk, is that he used to stand up in the middle of a piece, while all the other players kept on playing, and dance for a couple of minutes, mostly in a semi-trance circling to the left routines which are very similar to Indian dances from one side of the ocean and Muslim Sufi dancer on the other side, a dance which is spiritual and brings the dancer deeper into the trance state and the eternal connection with god, nature, or anything else you want to call "that" things.
Well, I enjoy doing it. That’s all I wanted to do anyway. I guess, you know, if I didn’t make it with the piano, I guess I would have been the biggest bum.”
Monk's playing was always introspective. Always hesitating with confidence, gushing with restraint. You can almost hear the inner dialogue, maybe something similar to what goes in your head when you are starting to meditate and have to clear all the 'other' voices until there is silence and you can hear yourself.
It seems most of his pieces start with some tension, a lack of harmony, a force unleashed… and then…there is a revelation. Usually something lighter, putting the light back in enlightened, until it grows and blossoms to a full song.
There are always a couple of speed bumps along the way, but it is just part of the journey. When I heard monk for the first times I wandered about these pauses, these 'breaks' in the melody…it seemed to me so imperfect I didn’t understand what it was doing in a masters work. Now I know. The world is not perfect. The flow stops , and continues, you live, you learn, you develop. That is life.
And that is what the monk knew. And what he gave us in each stroke of a key, a key to our life's secret. A key to our being.
We need more monks to show us mortals the key.
Of course it is not a coincidence that out of the four clips I chose, two are with john Coltrane.
They were not only partners in jazz session and recordings, but were neighbors on that cloud up there, where the spiritual notes are king, and the view is clear as far as your mind can see. But on Coltrane you will have to read in the Coltrane article.
Here there is just one monk.
And I bring jasmine flowers and small snacks on a golden tray to place near the incense in his temple of tempo, his shrine of a shooting star, his cave of chords and masterful melodies.