Straight, No Chaser
October 10, 2011 4:18 PM   Subscribe

One of America's most idiosyncratic musical geniuses was, of course, the great Thelonious Monk (Wiki), and what better way to celebrate his birthday today than viewing (in its entirety!) an excellent documentary on the man and his music? Straight, No Chaser
posted by flapjax at midnite (25 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Oooh I can't wait to get home and watch this! Thank you.
posted by Specklet at 4:28 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the last year I've gone from "cool middle name" to wearing out two Monk CDs and realizing he's amazing. Let me share my latest favorite: In Walked Bud. It's the sound that plays in my mind while I'm waiting for the bus or walking around town.

(If I could have my own personal theme music that played every time I entered a room, it would be the first few bars of that.)
posted by benito.strauss at 4:28 PM on October 10, 2011

One of the lovely side-effects of playing a musical instrument is that one gets to play the head of Straight No Chaser and thereby share mindspace with Mr Monk's glorious, irascible edginess. I could recommend it to anyone.
posted by Grangousier at 4:30 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this, flapjax. I never listened to jazz until I was an adult, and never really listened to Monk's stuff until recently. Turns out he's one of those people whom I've found that each time I listen, I get something new out of it--repeated listens are richly rewarded. However, I never sat down and watched any youtubery of him playing. This is just crazy good.
posted by not_on_display at 4:34 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Arrrgh 240p!! So cruel.

But, looks like the dvd is available on Amazon, and uh... other places.

All the other kids bragged about Lucy Liu having gone to our high school, but I thought it was way cooler that Thelonious Monk did.
posted by danny the boy at 4:39 PM on October 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I swear I've seen this (or parts) at least 50 times and I never grow tired of it. Thanks for posting... and happy birthday, Monk.
posted by sleepy pete at 4:49 PM on October 10, 2011

To quote myself...

What makes Monk fascinating even amongst the ranks of jazz geniuses is that he didn't seem to require any period of artistic development. He just sort of showed up with this brilliant keyboard conception, refined it over a decade or so, and then - apparently having said his piece - shut up and stayed home.

A model career, if you ask me.
posted by Trurl at 4:53 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

benito.strauss: “In the last year I've gone from "cool middle name" to wearing out two Monk CDs and realizing he's amazing. Let me share my latest favorite: In Walked Bud. It's the sound that plays in my mind while I'm waiting for the bus or walking around town. (If I could have my own personal theme music that played every time I entered a room, it would be the first few bars of that.)”

You may find this out from the documentary – or you may already know – but the story behind that awesome song makes it even cooler.

Monk was pretty much the piano player on the ground floor at Minton's in New York when bebop was born – he was at least its soul father, the guy who knew what this new idea of harmony could do, and who knew what potential it had. These were the days when all the musicians in New York made their money at nights in swing bands, playing largely what had become sanitized dance music with no breaks and no room for solos for the white crowds that actually had money to pay. So these young lions would get together in the early 1940s at Minton's after they finished their gigs and just blow, just play for hours and hours. Literally – they'd play "It Don't Mean A Thing" and "All The Things You Are" and all these other songs they'd just had to play, only they'd play them right. They'd throw in all the weirdest chord substitutions – the weirder or crazier you could make it, the better. No stuffy bandleader would be there to tell you to keep it square. And everybody got a solo – the drummer, the piano player, even the bassist. They'd play these songs forever – they "It Don't Mean A Thing" used to go on for an hour at a stretch, cycling through, everybody soloing and then passing it on.

Like I say, Monk was there at the beginning, and he got it – he once expressed the philosophy of bebop perfectly by saying: "We're going to create something that they can't steal, because they can't play it."

Monk had already been on the scene for years at that point, but around the mid-1940s, this young guy, Bud Powell, showed up. Bud idolized Thelonious Monk. Monk was like a father and almost a god to him – and they spent lots of time together, Bud trying to catch every glimmer of new stuff from Monk, and Monk enjoying taking care of the kid and becoming fast friends with him.

Anyway, that brings us to 1945. In this time the cops in New York were notoriously uncharitable (to put it mildly) toward black people and particularly toward musicians. That went double for these young guys staying out all night, sometimes doing some odd drugs, going from closed-up bar to closed-up bar looking for spots to keep playing music with each other. One night, after closing time, a cop got a bit rough with Monk, and was just starting to get violent, when suddenly Bud Powell arrived on the scene and grabbed the officer from behind and swung him around. "Do you realize," he said, "that you're getting rough with the greatest piano player in the world?"

The truncheon came down hard on Bud's head, and he didn't come up for a while. And after that, he always had the shakes, and he ended up in and out of mental institutions (sometimes against his will) and he turned more and more to heroine. (That's actually how Monk later ended up losing his his musician's union card, which meant he couldn't play in New York for several of the most important years in jazz – he took the fall for Bud one night when a cop found his stash.) Bud Powell died far too young, in 1966, and even then all agreed that he was twenty years past his prime.

But Monk never forgot that. He wrote that song to commemorate that night when he was about to get a beating from a cop – when in walked Bud...
posted by koeselitz at 4:58 PM on October 10, 2011 [21 favorites]

Damn. I had idly wondered just who "Bud" was. Didn't know it was such a dramatic story. I now feel like I owe it to Bud Powell to go check out his music.

not_on_display, your experience sounds so similar to mine. It was only in adulthood when the jazz circuits, and then the specific Monk circuits, in my brain finally connected up right. And what was different about Monk is that I had the very specific thoughts "there's something there that is more than I had suspected" and "I'm going to be spending quite a while listening, no, studying, what he's done to find it out."

I've settled on a handful of pieces (Pannonica, In Walked Bud, Brilliant Corners, Bemsha Swing), and listen to them over and over again; so often there's something new.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:05 PM on October 10, 2011

This is a really great documentary. I saw it when
it first came out and looking forward to watching it
again. It lets you see the unique and quirky side of
Monk. If you haven't seen it, it is well worth your time.
posted by quazichimp at 7:08 PM on October 10, 2011

I just picked up Kronos Quartet's take on Thelonious on vinyl the other day. Highly recommended. Thanks for the post.
posted by mannequito at 7:13 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

A friend overheard 'Do you have any of The Loneliest Monk?' in a local record store. Hearing Monk opened me up to the potential of Jazz after the horror of smooth jazz almost made me shut the door on a whole world of experience.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:46 PM on October 10, 2011

benito.strauss sounds like you need the Personal Soundtrack Shirt :)
posted by TangerineGurl at 7:46 PM on October 10, 2011

Some of his songs I have been trying to learn for thirty years or so. He elevates the adjective idiosyncratic to its highest level: genius.

Some of this songs are approachable and I can improvise around the changes (chords), but some are so beautiful ( like "Monk's Mood") that I will just play them once, straight through. That's plenty.
posted by kozad at 8:08 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I should mention – anybody interested in Monk should check out Robin D G Kelly's recent biography, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. I've only looked at it a bit, but it's quickly become the most highly-regarded biography of the man out there.
posted by koeselitz at 8:09 PM on October 10, 2011

I found this poem about Thelonious Monk a couple of years ago, and I've liked this part since the first time I read it:

It was the surprise I liked,
the discordance and fretful change of beat,

as in Straight No Chaser, where he hammers together
a papier-mâché skyscraper, then pops seagulls
with golf balls. Racket, racket, but all of it

music. What Monk banged out was the conviction
of innumerable directions.

-Stephen Dobyns, "Thelonious Monk"
posted by colfax at 9:33 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Fresh Air show with Kelly, about the biography is what pushed me to check Monk out seriously.

TangerineGurl: sounds like you need the Personal Soundtrack Shirt.

There are some things I know I cannot handle responsibly. A car after I've have a drink is one of them. That shirt, drunk or sober, looks like another one.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:43 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, that's great. I'm just taking a few steps into the tunes of TS Monk, rehearsing in two different units, learning to play straight no chaser and in walked bud. I have to play the bass part in one of the bands, so I'm learning to play the head on the bass too. Thanks !
posted by nicolin at 1:50 AM on October 11, 2011

I kind of enjoy the Jon Hendricks vocal on "In Walked Bud" on Underground. Am I a bad person?

Answers on a postcard, please.
posted by Wolof at 4:50 AM on October 11, 2011

Jon Hendricks is cool. Wish you were here. Love, kozad.
posted by kozad at 5:22 AM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

No tribute to Monk would be complete without sharing the unique interpretations of his music done by the one, the only, Hans Groiner.
posted by keys at 8:46 AM on October 11, 2011

I was playing Monk all day at my desk on Thursday. None of my officemates recognized the music, but all of them seemed to like it. Had no idea it was so close to his birthday. I just felt like some Monk, so fired it up.

I didn't discover jazz until I was in grad school; really, there's a ton of musical styles I didn't fund until then. But I'm glad I found it.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:47 AM on October 11, 2011

I never tire of Monk.
posted by aught at 8:56 AM on October 11, 2011

Going back to Wolof's comment, I would hearily recommend, to both the diehard Monk fan and the Monk-curious, Carmen McRae's Carmen Sings Monk. All of his songs are vocalized, and "Suddenly," the renamed "In Walked Bud," is a great version.
posted by the sobsister at 11:37 AM on October 11, 2011

Monk apparently also took that heroin rap for a friend in the car who was on probation... (although i wasn't there).

TM was more than simply a genius - his canon of songs includes so many standards that it would be hard to imagine jazz being what it is without his contributions.

There's a Columbia Records compilation ("The Composer") that would be my nomination for best jazz disk ever (and I generally don't think much of compilations).
posted by onesidys at 5:13 PM on October 11, 2011

« Older Ain't too proud to beg   |   The Aarne-Thompson Classification System Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments