Thelonius Monk

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Thelonius Monk

The third member of bop’s triumvirate was the eccentric and very private Thelonius Monk. As a soloist, Monk was unlike any other pianist. In contrast with the flowing, roller-coaster solo lines created by other bop soloists, Monk’s piano solos were jarring fragments of melodies played by stiff fingers attacking the keyboard in an aggressive, percussive manner. Although Monk did solo on some of the recordings he made with Gillespie, Parker, guitarist Charlie Christian and others, it was his bop compositions that set him apart from the others. Not since Duke Ellington had a jazz composer created so much music with such revolutionary ideas.

A comparison of Monk with Ellington is warranted. Monk took the expanded harmonic vocabulary developed by the Duke and added his own layer of sounds. Many of the innovative tonal ideas which Ellington explored by mixed sections of instruments of his band were extended by Monk into the single instrument of the piano.

In the early 1920s classical European composers like Russian Igor Stravinsky and Frenchman Darius Milhaud were highly influenced by American jazz in their compositions and use of jazz instruments like the saxophone. The influence came full circle in the bop era when Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk studied Stravinsky’s works and even incorporated some of his musical themes into their improvisations. Monk’s audacious piano playing hints at this jazz-classical-jazz influence.

In contrast with the popularity of Parker, which vacillated throughout his life, or with that of Gillespie, which came from nowhere and remained strong until his death, Monk remained characteristically in the shadows during the early years of bop, only to gain recognition in bop’s second wave of popularity.  Monk, an eccentric who preferred experimenting at Minton’s long after everyone else had left, was satisfied to compose his songs and remain in the background of others’ recordings for the first years of the bop revolution.

From 1952 to 1957 Monk had recording contracts with four or five different labels, none with any great success. In 1957, however, several appearances with John Coltrane, tours of Europe and America, and a New York concert with an orchestra playing arranged versions of his works, gave Monk the respect he deserved. By 1964 he had a recording contract with the powerful Columbia Records, appeared on the cover of Time magazine (an honor bestowed on only three other jazz musicians), and had numerous tours of America, Europe, Mexico, and Japan.

From 1970-72 he recorded and performed with an All Star Combo which included Dizzy Gillespie as well as others, but suddenly withdrew from public appearances just as his recordings were achieving a new wave of appreciation. With the exception of three Carnegie Hall performances with an orchestra in 1975 and playing with a quintet at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1976, Monk remained in seclusion until his death in 1982 at the New Jersey home of a close friend, Baronness Koenigswarter, who had also owned the Manhattan apartment where Charlie Parker died twenty-seven years earlier.

Just as big band spawned two offshoots: jump blues and bop, bop also helped to instigate two further jazz movements: cool jazz and free jazz.

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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