Straight, No Chaser: The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk

Overview

Thelonious Monk is one of jazz's legendary figures, whose life story is shrouded in mystery. In the house trio at Harlem's hip, renowned Minton's Playhouse, he, along with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and drummer Kenny Clarke - and sometimes saxophonist Charlie Parker - helped mold the nascent style of bebop. Monk's compositions 'Round Midnight; Straight, No Chaser; Blue Monk; Misterioso; Rhythm-a-ning; and scores more have become classics in the jazz repertoire. Monk's piano playing was so original that it has been...
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Overview

Thelonious Monk is one of jazz's legendary figures, whose life story is shrouded in mystery. In the house trio at Harlem's hip, renowned Minton's Playhouse, he, along with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and drummer Kenny Clarke - and sometimes saxophonist Charlie Parker - helped mold the nascent style of bebop. Monk's compositions 'Round Midnight; Straight, No Chaser; Blue Monk; Misterioso; Rhythm-a-ning; and scores more have become classics in the jazz repertoire. Monk's piano playing was so original that it has been widely emulated and praised, but never equaled. His personal life was also unique, including battles with mental and neurological conditions that finally led to his total, tragic withdrawal from recording an performing years before his death.
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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A ramshackle biography of the legendary jazz innovator.

Gourse (Madame Jazz, 1995, etc.) has researched Monk's life thoroughly, interviewing his surviving family members and musical cohorts, as well as combing the archives for contemporary profiles and reviews of his work. Sadly, however, there's insufficient narrative thread here to stitch together Gourse's assemblage of quotes. Monk grew up in New York City; by 1934, when he was 16, he had dropped out of school to devote his full attention to the piano. After touring the country with a gospel group, he returned to New York and began experimenting with his uniquely personal tonal and rhythmic language, often identified as the essential ammunition of the bebop revolution. While Monk profoundly influenced Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, it wasn't until the late '50s that his seminal gigs at Manhattan's Five Spot garnered him full public recognition as a musician and composer. He was equally famous for his eccentricities: Generally late for his performances, he often left the piano and danced around the stage, letting the ever-changing members of his quartet supply the music. In private, Monk was notoriously taciturn, and occasionally he would experience episodes of complete withdrawal that required his hospitalization. Gourse entertains the idle speculations of many nonexpert acquaintances about the causes of his behavior, but the conclusion she seems to support—possible extensive use of unspecified drugs, complicated by genius—is vague. And about Monk's music the author offers silly tautologies like, "In the aggregate, his songs comprised an oeuvre, each a commentary on his unique universe of sound."

The book's obvious title, already used for a Monk documentary, is a perfect tipoff that Gourse has little to say about her subject that is imaginative or useful.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780028650326
  • Publisher: Omnibus Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/1998
  • Pages: 340
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.84 (d)

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