Website: Thelonious Monk
by John Clayton
May 18, 2019
Every composer strives to express him or herself as they share their ideas, fantasies, and artistic curiosities through music. We are all influenced by a number of obvious and tangible things, including our families, friends, recordings, live performances… but you know all of that. What we do not know is how all of those components help define what everybody around us calls our voice, our thing, our sound.
Thelonious Monk’s voice was obviously unique. His contributions to music were vast and his playing and compositions are historic and pivotal. His stride piano playing, developed during his time at Minton’s Playhouse in New York, showed his growth in love for Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson, and Art Tatum. Monk befriended Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and they became the A-Team that created bebop, the musical language whose tendrils grew and helped a new music to blossom. His playing style and compositions – both angular and beautifully dissonant, filled with minor seconds and unorthodox harmonic and intervallic motion – still continue to influence composers and performers in grand ways, including me.
Monk heard things that no other musicians heard. Monk was bad; he was super bad! He was crazy, off the charts, super bad! He commented on how bad his bandmate Johnny Griffin’s pants were. No, Monk. YOU are bad. We can all say about you what you said about Mr. Griffin’s pants. You’re a bad mhh…, for which the world is eternally grateful.
John Clayton is a Grammy Award winner composer, arranger, producer, educator, and bassist.