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Thelonious Monk's Jazz Legacy
Jazz pianist Thelonious Monk performs at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, R.I. on July 5, 1963. (AP Photo)

Thelonious Monk performs at the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, R.I., on July 5, 1963. (AP Photo)

Jazz great Thelonious Monk had a genius for unusual and daring composition, for confounding and delighting the world. He did things with rhythm, melody and chords that had never quite been heard before.

Hip America swooned for his music and for his myth: the mystical, elusive “George Washington of bebop.” From the 1940s to the 1970s and beyond, the myth of Monk nearly overshadowed the man. But his music rolls on.

A new biography from Robin Kelley tells the story of the music and the man — of Coltrane and Chopin and genius and Monk.

This hour, On Point: a deep new look at the great jazzman Thelonious Monk.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Robin Kelley joins us from Los Angeles. Professor of history and American Studies at the University of Southern California, he’s the author of the new biography “Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original.” You can read an excerpt here.

And from New York we’re joined by Matthew Shipp, jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader. His previous albums include “One,” “Harmony and Abyss,” and “Equilibrium.” His forthcoming album, available this January, is “4d.” You can hear him playing and talking about piano jazz at NPR.org.

Here’s a list of the Monk songs featured during the hour:

“Blue Sphere”
“‘Round Midnight”
“Trinkle, Tinkle”
“Brilliant Corners”
“In Walked Bud”
“This is My Story, This is My Song”
“Well, You Needn’t”

More links:

In this clip from the documentary “Straight No Chaser,” you can see Monk’s famous “dance” during a performance:

And here’s Monk playing his renowned composition “‘Round Midnight” in Norway in 1966:

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  • http://www.tedauch.com Ted Auch

    Thelonious Monk is a true treasure and an export we can all feel proud of. His music is eternal and his refusal or inability to bend to the popular will of his critics and society writ large made him one of the most unique and creative conduits of music the world has seen. I look forward to this book and this show.

  • http://www.zicreative.com Bill Lattanzi

    I once saw Monk perform at Avery Fisher toward the end of his life, as part of George Wein’s Newport in New York Jazz Fest. He had the most peculiar style of playing, almost like Chico Marx, dropping his fingers from the middle knuckle. Any info on where that style came from?

  • Putney Swope

    Monk was one of the most original American composers in the history of music. He was also apparently a great teacher, witness John Coltrane’s growth from the short time he spent with Monk.

    The three greats of modern American music, Monk, Duke and Mingus. Mingus wrote a great tune with this title.

  • Robert Grant

    Back in the mid 70′s I was first exposed to Monk listening to the Eclectic Stop Sign, a late night jazz show on WGUC in Cincinnati. It was hosted by a gentleman who called himself Oscar Treadwell. OT told a story about getting fired from a DJ gig he had had years before because he would not stop playing Monk. Oscar was my jazz guru at the time, so the next day I went out a bought the first two of my extensive collection of Monk LPs – “Who’s Afraid of the Big Band Monk” and “Solo Monk”. I was drawn to the first by the superb cover art, which had a caricature of Monk depicted as a wolf, as well as the track “An Ocsar for Treadwell”. I got the other because it seem like a logical bookend for the big band album. I still cherish these albums along with the entire Monk catalog. Thanks for the interesting show!

  • Kevin

    This has been a really great show. I really appreciate the fact you would feature a subject like this for a full hour. Thanks!

  • Brett

    Great show, Tom! I hated to hear it end! I have played Jazz drums for 46 years, and I consider Monk essential. His playing was percussive, melodic, harmonic and everything primordial and urbane!

  • Bart Caruso

    A while ago, hearing Santos and Johnny’s “Sleep Walk, ” on the radio, I felt I wanted that recording played at my wake / funeral. I have since heard Monk’s original 1947 recording of “‘Round Midnight.” With Art Blakey,George Taitt, Sahib Shihab and Bob Paige.I would like my mourners to hear that ,too.

  • John Green

    My introduction to Monk’s music was when I saw him live in 1963 or 1964 in Long Beach, California. Believe it or not, Monk was opening for Peter, Paul, and Mary. I was a folkie who went to hear PP&M and but the next day I went out and bought a Monk album. I’ve been listening to him ever since.

  • Norman Shacat

    There was one piece played on today’s show… sounded almost religious. Tom made a point of mentioning how blown away he was when he listened to it. I think he mentioned he had to pull over. I wrote down the name, but misplaced it? Any help?

  • Norman Shacat

    Sorry, I found it on the web site… “This is My Story, This is My Song”

  • Chris

    I CANNOT believe that someone ELSE also looks forward to having Santo and Johnny’s “Sleep Walk” played at their funeral!!!! I have had it on my list for decades!!!!

    I first danced to it in the Seventh Grade — that was the start of “junior High School” back then, and it was the first dance I ever had with a boy that wasn’t at Thursday afternoon dancing school. It changed something in me.

    I’m going to check for more musical selections for that final “concert” from this commentary page!

  • Sylvia Connor

    What Monk CD has “Autumn Leaves” on it?

  • Frank

    Thank you so much for this show. Monk was a genius and has been under appreciated. Brilliant show.

  • Alan

    If I was not fighting the flu, I would have written earlier. This program is another in a long line that keeps me listening to “On Point.” Far too much radio time is spent on tragedy and disaster, as if we need to be constantly bombarded with the obvious. Once again, “On Point” reminds us there is genius and beauty in this battered old world. In closing, let me add something I told my daughter when she was early into her years as a violin student. “Yes, the ‘Three B’s’ — Bach, Beethoven and Brahms — are essential, but always remember the ‘Three M’s” — Miles, Mingus and Monk!

  • http://fruittiongallery myrna fruitt

    i first heard monk playing dont blame me on tony cennamos show in the 60s..the following week tony played round midnight and was hooked,,tony was a huge radio personality on a b u show..thanx tony for introducing me to dexter monk and miles davis myrna

  • http://fruittiongallery myrna fruitt

    i first heard monk playing dont blame me on tony cennamos show in the 60s..the following week tony played round midnight and was hooked,,tony was a huge radio personality on a b u show..thanx tony for introducing me to dexter monk and miles davis myrna

  • Matt

    Mr. Kelly’s book is simply AMAZING! GET IT!

  • Larry Levy

    In the fifties I had a college room mate who thought he was Joe Morello. This meant that I had to endure hours of him accompanying Dave Brubeck LPs on drums. Fortunately, he had also brought along a Monk Blue Note album that he didn’t really like. Being perverse, I started to play the Monk album a lot and grew to love the angularity and humor.

    Back in New York, I was fortunate to be able to court my girl friend by inflicting her with MANY visits to the 5 Spot and the Jazz Gallery. The sets may have varied in length, but never in quality. Monk’s performance never disappointed.

    The beauty of listening to Monk is that there is always more to listen to and learn from. He certainly was not above citing his predecessors (e.g., James P and the Lion). If I paid proper attention, he gave me a course in jazz piano history.

  • http://blogmejazz.blogspot.com/ Colin Hall

    I watched a show recently that explored the relationship between Thelonious Monk and Pannonica Rothschild. They seemed to give each other purpose.

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