Saturday, February 20, 2010

Thelonious Monk

Chapter 10: "The George Washington of Bebop"
(September 1947-August 1948) …. Part 1

As I commented in my request to Robin D.G. Kelley, who has so graciously granted JazzProfiles copyright permission to reproduce this chapter from his monumental book - Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of An American Legend [New York: Free Press, 2009]:

“Beginning in the mid-1950’s, as a young, would-be jazz drummer, I lived through many of the chronological periods that you deal with in your work.  Of course, my awareness of what was actually going on with Monk for much of his career was clouded by the naiveté of youth and by the somewhat selective nature of the jazz criticism then available.

Needless to say, your exceedingly well-research, comprehensive and well-written tribute to Thelonious and his music was a source of constant revelation and deep satisfaction as it helped me to get to know a great deal about a man and a musician I have long admired.

You should be very proud of what you have accomplished; the book is a tremendous achievement not only because of its scholarly attributes, but also because of the easy-to-read nature of its narrative.”

Inherent in this message to Robin D.G. Kelley is the fact that in our lifetime, the “modern” Jazz of our youth has moved from a living, dynamic art to become a form of classical music that is documented and researched by scholars.

Who would have thought that the Thelonious Monk Quartet 1960s performances that I attended at Shelly’s Manne Hole in Hollywood, CA and the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, CA would be revisited nearly a half-century later as part of a book-length treatment of Monk’s life and his music?!
Professor Kelley is at work on a paperback version of his book that will contain some revisions and corrections, but, in the meantime, should you wish to order a hardbound copy, you can do so by going here.

NB: Although the original numerical notations have been left in place, the footnotes that they designate can be found at the end of the feature so as to not interrupt the flow of the narrative.

© -Robin D. G. Kelley, reproduced with permission. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Mary Lou Williams first relayed the message to Thelonious. A white guy named Bill Gottlieb was looking for him. He worked for Down Beat magazine as a writer and photographer and he wanted to do a story on Monk. Monk was incredulous. For the past year he had been hustling for nickel-and-dime gigs. Now the nations premier jazz periodical wanted to do a story on him? Publicity meant gigs, and Monk desperately needed both. Williams arranged the meeting for early September, 1947, and instructed Gottlieb to meet Thelonious at Mrs. Monk's apartment on West 63rd.

The bespectacled and intense Gottlieb looked more like a college professor than a typical jazz fan, but he knew his stuff. Born in Brooklyn in 1917, Gottlieb earned a bachelor's degree from Lehigh University and went on to work in the advertising department of The Washington Post. He began writing a weekly jazz column for the Post but because the paper had no budget for a photographer, he bought a Speed Graphic camera and took his own pictures. Gottlieb's reputation grew through his work with the camera. After a tour of duty in the service, he returned to New York City and started working for Down Beat in the spring of 1946. He covered most of the mainstream big bands and launched a feature he called "Posin," candid shots of musicians with a sen­tence or two of witty commentary.1 He had become one of bebop's more enthusiastic champions. Just prior to meeting Thelonious, he had published several photos of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis, including what would become an iconic image of Gillespie posing with a beret, glasses, and goatee — Monk-style.2
Why the sudden interest in Monk? Virtually every arts and entertainment maga­zine was scrambling for anything related to the hottest trend in music—bebop. Besides the jazz mainstays—Down Beat, Metronome, The Record Changer—popular magazines such as The New Republic, Esquire, and Saturday Review began carrying profiles, edi­torials, and curiosity pieces on bebop and its major players throughout 1947, a good six months to a year before debates over the new music began to really heat up.3 The battles were fierce: bebop was great, or terrible. No one could define it musically, but that didn't matter. Musicians felt compelled to enter the debate, and some of the genre's prominent voices—Mary Lou Williams, Tadd Dameron, and Lennie Tristano— published articles defending the new music from its detractors.4  Of course, those musi­cians who came to represent the different camps continued to call music "music," and neither generational nor stylistic differences kept them from sharing the bandstand or a recording studio. But collaboration, flexibility of style, and ambiguity in genre distinc­tions didn't sell magazines.

Bird and Diz suddenly became the new heroes—or antiheroes, depending on one's stance—in the jazz wars. And in virtually every interview they granted, they mentioned Thelonious Monk. Monk had mastered the new harmonic developments; he was one of the pioneers at Minton's Playhouse. Suddenly Monk came across as the 1940s ver­sion of Buddy Bolden, that missing link who started it all but then disappeared. To Gottlieb, he was "the George Washington of bebop."

Gottlieb first laid eyes on Monk the previous summer at the Spotlite when Monk was still with Dizzy's big band. Gottlieb enjoyed the music but was even more fasci­nated by the visual spectacle: "You could recognize [Monk's] cult from his bebop uni­form: goatee, beret and heavy shell glasses, only his were done half in gold."5 From that moment on, Gottlieb wanted to have a conversation with Thelonious, but claimed he could never find him.
When Gottlieb and Monk finally did meet, they hit it off famously. They were the same age, they both really dug the Claude Thornhill band,6 and had a thing for Billie Holiday. Gottlieb had shot some gorgeous photos of Holiday that were published in The Record Changer earlier that spring, and Thelonious kept a photo of Billie taped to his bedroom ceiling.7 "In the taxi, on the way up," Gottlieb recounted, "Theloni­ous spoke with singular modesty. He wouldn't go on record as insisting HE started be-bop; but, as the story books have long since related, he admitted he was at least one of the originators." But Monk's interpretation of events may have been less modest than Gottlieb realized. "Be-bop wasn't developed in any deliberate way," he explained in the interview. "For my part, I'll say it was just the style of music I happened to play. We all contributed ideas .. ." Then he immodestly added, "If my own work had more impor­tance than any other's, it's because the piano is the key instrument in music. I think all styles are built around piano developments. The piano lays the chord foundation and the rhythm foundation, too. Along with bass and piano, I was always at the spot [Min­ton's], and could keep working on the music. The rest, like Diz and Charlie, came in only from time to time, at first."8

Once they reached their destination, Monk headed straight for the piano. Former manager Teddy Hill and trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Howard McGhee just happened to drop by, though it's likely Gottlieb had tipped them off beforehand. Gottlieb took several photos of Monk at the piano—playing, posing, looking anything but myste­rious in his slightly oversized pinstriped suit and dark glasses. Most of the shots are hatless, but Gottlieb persuaded Monk to don his famous beret for a few. Monk wasn't just posing, however. He was up there to work. Gottlieb observed how McGhee "got Thelonious to dream up some trumpet passages and then conned Thelonious into writ­ing them down on some score sheets that happened to be in the club."9 Then Gottlieb coaxed the men to step outside for an impromptu photo shoot. He produced one of the most widely circulated and iconic photographs in jazz history. Four pioneers of modern jazz standing abreast beneath the awning at Minton's Playhouse, the house that "bop" allegedly built. The published photo is rich with wit. Gottlieb created a Mount Rushmore of modern jazz, with Thelonious positioned on the far left in George Washington's spot.
When "Thelonius [sic] Monk—Genius of Bop" appeared in the September 24 issue of Down Beat, it not only revised the story of recent jazz history, but also set in motion the image of Monk as a mysterious, eccentric figure. Gottlieb made much of his "elu­sive" character, noting that while we've all heard stories of his "fantastic musical imagi­nation; about his fine piano playing . . . few have ever seen him." He quoted Teddy Hill: "[Thelonious is] so absorbed in his task he's become almost mysterious. Maybe he's on the way to meet you. An idea comes to him. He begins to work on it. Mop! Two days go by and he's still at it. He's forgotten all about you and everything else but that idea." Presenting Monk to jazz audiences as a furtive and baffling figure allowed Gottlieb to make the sensational claim that he had discovered the true source for the new music. Quoting Hill again: Monk "deserves the most credit for starting be-bop. Though he won't admit it, I think he feels he got a bum break in not getting some of the glory that went to others. Rather than go out now and have people think he's just an imitator, Thelonious is thinking up new things. I believe he hopes one day to come out with something as far ahead of bop as bop is ahead of the music that went before it."10
That day came sooner than Hill could have imagined. Hardly a week had passed since Monk's afternoon with Bill Gottlieb when Ike Quebec, a tenor player, came knocking. He had dropped by Monk's place many times before, but this time he had a young white couple in tow, Alfred and Lorraine Lion. Alfred, somewhat small with delicate features, spoke quietly with a heavy German accent. Lorraine was tall and lean, with jet-black hair and dark eyes, and was less reserved than her husband. She talked fast and with confidence; her accent was vintage Jersey. The guests were led to Thelonious's bedroom. "Monk's room was right off the kitchen," Lorraine (now Gordon) recalled. "It was a room out of Vincent van Gogh, somehow—you know, ascetic: a bed (a cot, really) against the wall, a window, and an upright piano. That was it."! ] He also surrounded himself with photos, like the picture of Billie Holiday on his ceiling taped next to a red light bulb, a photograph of Sarah Vaughan on the wall next to his cot, and a publicity shot of Dizzy above the piano with the inscription, "To Monk, my first inspiration. Stay with it. Your boy, Dizzy Gillespie."12 The room was relatively dark; the only window faced the alley and the lamp on his dresser gave off very little light. But it was home to his Klein piano, his woodshed and workshop, and a place to crash.

Monk knew why they were there. Alfred was the founder of Blue Note records and he ran it with Lorraine and his friend and business partner, Frank Wolff. Quebec had been one of Blue Note's recording artists since 1944. The Lions trusted Quebec's ear for new developments in jazz and made him a kind of A&R man for the label.13 Quebec became Monk's advocate and begged Alfred and Lorraine to come check him out.14 The Lions were hesitant until they got wind of Down Beat's profile on Monk.
As Lorraine later wrote, "We all sat down on Monk's narrow bed—our legs straight out in front of us, like children.... The door closed. And Monk played, with his back to us."15 He gave his guests a full-length performance, including " 'Round ," "What Now," several untitled pieces, and the ballad he now called "Ruby, My Dear." Lorraine "fell in love." It wasn't the dissonant harmonies that did it; it was his commit­ment to stride piano. Monk, she remembered, "didn't seem so revolutionary to me. That's why I liked him so much. In those early days I couldn't listen to a lot of avant-garde musicians. I was steeped in Sidney Bechet and Duke Ellington. But Monk made the transition for me, because I was hearing his great stride piano style from James P. Johnson and the blues and his great left hand."16

Very few words were exchanged. By the time the Lions left, Thelonious Monk had a recording date. He had just a couple of weeks to put together a band. It was a minor miracle: After years of hustling and scraping while others put his compositions on wax, Monk finally had the chance to record his own music as a bandleader. It was a long time coming: He was just shy of his thirtieth birthday.

The Lions' enthusiastic response was a departure. The label had a reputation for signing the older generation of jazz artists, the folks young bebop fans called "moldy figs." From its origins in 1938, Blue Note focused on pianists Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis, Art Hodes, and James P. Johnson; New Orleans-style reed players like Sidney Bechet and Albert Nicholas; and the resurrected trumpeter Bunk Johnson, to name a few.17

For two German émigrés with no previous experience in the record industry, Lion and Wolff fared pretty well. They recorded selectively during the war, and because Blue Note was an independent label, they were able to make records during the AFM recording ban. When Alfred was drafted in 1942, operations came to a virtual stand­still until his discharge in November of 1943. When he returned to work, however, Lion had a new wife and dynamic business partner who helped change the face of Blue Note. Born Lorraine Stein of Newark, New Jersey, Alfred's bride had loved jazz since she was a child, especially Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, James P. John­son, and the classic female blues artists of the 1920s—Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Mamie Smith. She and her brother Philip used to go door-to-door in Newark's black community, offering to buy their old 78s for a quarter apiece. As a teenager she helped start Newark's "Hot Club," a jazz fan/record collectors' club with chapters all over the world.18
Now that the war had ended, jazz was moving in new directions, and Blue Note had to keep up with the times. Because he knew all the modernists, signing Ike Quebec was a blessing. "We were very close to Ike," recalled Frank Wolff. "He knew about Monk and Bud Powell and thought they were the outstanding modern pioneers on piano."19 Quebec was similar to Coleman Hawkins in his approach to the tenor saxophone. In the Bird era of high-velocity horn playing, Ike's preferred vehicle was the romantic ballad. Nevertheless, he hired some of the young cats for his own dates—such as bass­ists Oscar Pettiford and Milt Hinton—and he helped arrange Blue Note's first bebop sessions with vocalist "Babs" Gonzales and pianist Tadd Dameron. Indeed, just three weeks before Monk was scheduled to go into the studio, Tadd Dameron led a session for Blue Note with Fats Navarro on trumpet, Nelson Boyd on bass, and three future Monk sidemen—Ernie Henry (alto), Charlie Rouse (tenor), and Rossiere Vandella Wilson—better known as "Shadow"—on drums.20 By the time the Lions "discovered" Thelonious, they had already begun to move the label into the new era.

Blue Note's gang of three completely supported their newest recording artist. They left Monk in charge of choosing his sidemen, they helped coordinate rehearsals, and, per the label's policy, they paid musicians for rehearsal time.21 The most immediate task was to decide on the size of the ensemble and to find musicians willing and able to play Monks music. Thelonious chose to record with a sextet and hired mostly guys he knew from Minton's or from the jam session circuit. He had been playing with Gene Ramey for the past few months, so he was the logical choice on bass. Monk's horn section consisted of all young players who had never set foot in a recording studio. On tenor he hired a Brooklyn kid named Billy Smith, and his alto player was Ike Quebec's cousin, Danny Quebec West, a seventeen-year-old saxophone prodigy.

Monk's choice for trumpet was twenty-four-year-old Idrees Dawud ibn Sulieman. When he left his hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida with the Carolina Cotton Pickers in 1941, he was known as Leonard Graham. After four years on the road, he settled in New York City, got a job with Earl Hines s band, and started hanging out at Minton's.22 In New York Graham discovered Islam—not Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam, but a group calling itself the Muslim Brotherhood (not to be confused with the Egyptian group of that name). The Muslim Brotherhood identified with the Ahmadiyya move­ment, a radical strain of Islam founded in 1888 by an Indian Muslim, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who claimed to be the "Mahdi" or "Promised Messiah" and "redeemer" of the Islamic faith. The Ahmadiyyas were considered heretical by most of the Islamic world because they incorporated parts of the New Testament alongside the Qur'an, claimed that Jesus was a prophet of Islam, translated the Qur'an into languages other than Ara­bic, and promoted the idea that Ahmad was the Mahdi. The Ahmaddiyas established a mission in Harlem in 1920, which by the late 1940s had become a magnet for young black musicians politicized by the racism in New York.23 For

Sulieman and his fellow devotees, the Muslim Brotherhood redefined so-called Negroes from a national minor­ity to a world majority, embracing both Africa and Asia as part of a "colored" world. It bestowed upon black American culture a sense of dignity and nobility, which appealed to the creators of the new music. Many black musicians turned to Islam not only as a rejection of the "white man's religion" but also as a means to bring a moral structure to a world suffused with drugs, alcohol, and sex.24
Sulieman wasn't the only Muslim on Monk's first recording date. He hired his friend and protégé Art Blakey, a recent convert to the Muslim Brotherhood. He even adopted the name Abdullah Ibn Buhaina, though he rarely used it on stage. By one account, Blakey turned to Islam after he suffered a severe beating in Albany, Georgia, for fail­ing to address a police officer as "sir." "After that experience," he later explained, "I started searching for a philosophy, a better way of life.... I knew that Masonry wasn't it and that Christianity had fallen down on the job."25 The man who showed Blakey the way was Talib Dawud (formerly Barrymore Rainey), a trumpet player who not only recruited Sulieman but who had played with Thelonious in Dizzy's big band. Not long before the Blue Note session, Blakey and Dawud had started a Muslim mission out of Blakey's apartment.26

Blakey, Sulieman, and fifteen other musicians had also recently formed a rehearsal band calling themselves the Seventeen Messengers, or just the Messengers. The band was not entirely Muslim, but it did attract several Ahmadiyya followers. The groups name had religious connotations—a "messenger" was a Messenger of Allah.27 Monk not only played with the group on occasion, but the core players literally became his source for sidemen.

Muslims seemed to congregate around Monk during his Blue Note period, yet he never hired anyone for his religious affiliation. He was only interested in musicianship. Monk had always dug Blakey's drumming, and he had improved during the last couple of years traveling with Billy Eckstine's big band.28 With fleet hands and feet and a tre­mendous sense of timing and coordination, Blakey's approach marked a sharp depar­ture from both Kenny Clarke and Denzil Best. He was less interested in "dropping bombs" than using the bass drum and sock cymbal to create cross-rhythms. He rode the ride cymbal with such power and imagination that it ceased to be just a timekeeping device. And he loved to insert his signature press roll. Blakey always pushed the tempo, but because Thelonious was partial to medium tempos, almost a fox trot, he tended to rein him in. Blakey always found a way to sustain even the medium to medium-slow tempos with energy.29 For Billy Higgins, Blakey's recordings with Monk charted a new path for modern drumming: "On the records Art made with Monk, he was playing so much stuff that it was pitiful. He was charting the course. Art was Magellan."30
The band rehearsed at Monk's place on

West 63rd Street
in quarters so close it was almost unbearable. "All the musicians were in [Monk's bedroom] with their instru­ments," recalled Lorraine Gordon. "All of us crammed in that room for hours, and hours, listening and planning his record dates."31 With the session scheduled for Octo­ber 15 (five days after Thelonious celebrated his thirtieth birthday), the group only had a couple of weeks to nail down the music. Lion and Wolff decided Monk would cut four sides, all original compositions. In addition to "Humph" and "Thelonious," both Monk originals, they recorded Ike Quebec's "Suburban Eyes" (based on "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm"), and "Evonce" (slang for marijuana), co-written by Quebec and Idrees Sulieman.

By the time they gathered together at WOR Studios on Broadway and West 40th, neither Sulieman, West, Smith, Ramey, nor Blakey had fully mastered the music. The band wrestled with some of the songs and the arrangements for a number of takes. Working with Thelonious was not easy. Not only was his music difficult, but like Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and others, he believed that his sidemen should learn to play by listening. Alfred Lion remembers, "The musicians had to learn what he was doing by ear. And even if he had written it down, he might have changed his mind fifteen times between the time a musician learned his part and the final take. You really had to have ears to play with him."32 They started out with "Humph," one of the few songs Monk recorded only once in his career. "Humph" resembled "I Got Rhythm," except that Monk replaced the standard changes with his preferred chromatic descend­ing chord progressions. Monk's solo was replete with stock phrases he had been playing since Minton's and that he would continue to employ for the rest of his career. Like little countermelodies he incorporated at certain points in his improvisation, he had no problem with repeating himself. It took the band three takes to produce an acceptable version of "Humph."33

The star of the October 15 session, however, was another Monk original. "Thelonious" was the only tune completed in one take, and melodically it sounds deceptively simple. A theme built primarily on a repeating three-note phrase, Monk arranges the horns to play descending chord changes while he bangs out the melody. Monk is the only soloist, and what he plays introduces the listener to most of the devices that would characterize his improvisations: long rests, whole-tone figures, restatements of the mel­ody, repeating octaves and triplets, and huge intervallic leaps. He also inserts a section of stride piano full of dissonant clusters.
The Lions and Wolff were thrilled with the outcome. So thrilled, in fact, that they brought Monk back to WOR Studios nine days later to cut six more sides, this time with just Ramey and Blakey. Of the six, four were Monk originals and two were stan­dards ("April in Paris" and "Nice Work If You Can Get It"). Following two strong ver­sions of "Nice Work," Monk recorded "Ruby, My Dear," introduced by an elegant whole-tone run the length of the piano. Unlike all subsequent renditions, the opening melody is full of embellishments, and yet his improvisations stay fairly close to the melodic line. On "Well, You Needn't" (formerly "You Need 'Na"), Monk returns to a swinging tempo and good old chromaticism. He plays with pure joy, singing solfeggio throughout and dropping a series of locomotive-like phrases that bring his futuristic music back to early Basic and Duke.

Monk was also able to record a tune he had written some time ago. Once called "What Now," now "Off Minor," the melody was not entirely Monk's; he "borrowed" part of the A-section from his friend Elmo Hope.34 Bud Powell had recorded it back in January of 1947 with a trio consisting of Max Roach and Curley Russell.35 In Monk's hands, "Off Minor" is more humor than pathos. He slows the pace and allows us to hear the notes ring. There is a lot of dissonance and angularity, and Monk deliberately roughs it up. There is nothing accidental about what he plays—he sings each and every note.

Before Blue Note showed up at Monk's doorstep, he dreamed of making new music, going in a direction different from Dizzy and Bird's. These recordings represent a sig­nificant departure from bebop, the dominant paradigm for modern jazz. Ironically, the most imaginative and challenging composition he recorded during these sessions did not see the light of day for another nine years. "Introspection," which took four takes to produce an acceptable version, was unlike anything that came before it. It embodied the most radical elements of Monk's approach to composition and improvisation.36 It was the song that could have thrown down the gauntlet to bebop artists, opening jazz to much greater harmonic and rhythmic freedom. Yet the chords and melodic line fit together so well that Monk rarely strayed from the melody when improvising. For rea­sons unknown, Blue Note waited until they produced an LP of Monk's music to release "Introspection." Perhaps Wolff and the Lions believed the music was too experimental to attract listeners in 1947.
Nonetheless, the Blue Note team was anxious to get Monk back into the studio yet again. As Alfred Lion explained to producer Michael Cuscuna in 1985, "Monk was so fantastically original and his compositions were so strong and new that I just wanted to record everything he had. It was so fantastic I had to record it all."37 Less than a month later, November 21, Monk returned to the WOR Studios to record four more sides, despite the fact that Blue Note had yet to release one 78. This time, he decided to go with a quintet comprised of different personnel—the only holdover from the previ­ous sessions was Art Blakey. In place of Sulieman, Monk hired twenty-eight-year-old George "Flip" Taitt, a pretty good swing trumpeter who was almost as obscure as Billy Smith or Danny Quebec West.38

Monk also hired Sahib Shihab, a twenty-two-year-old alto and baritone player from the Seventeen Messengers and Minton's Playhouse. Like Blakey, he had con­verted to Islam and joined the Muslim Brotherhood earlier in the year.39 Born Edmund Gregory in Savannah, Georgia, Shihab attended classes at Boston Conser­vatory from 1941 to 1942, then toured with Fletcher Henderson for two years.40 The fair-skinned, clean-cut Shihab could pass for an Ivy League student, but at the time he got the call to record with Monk he was laboring as an elevator operator.41 Round­ing out the rhythm section was bassist Bob Paige, whom Monk hired on occasion. Each band member had worked with Monk in the past and was, at least, familiar with the music.

The session generated a few jewels, but it required a lot of work and patience. On "In Walked Bud," Monk's tribute to his friend based loosely on the changes to Irving Ber­lin's "Blue Skies," it took four tries to produce' an acceptable take. It took eight takes to create two usable versions of "Who Knows," a treacherous melody played swiftly over Monk's signature descending chromatic changes. Jumping way up and down across two octaves, Shihab had never confronted music so difficult. He told Nat Hentoff: "I had a part that was unbelievably difficult. I complained to Monk. His only answer was: 'You a musician? You got a union card? Play it!' To my surprise, I eventually did."4' Taitt, on the other hand, never quite got it. Every take was a struggle, and each time he was a little clueless as to what to do on the bridge. He also insisted on quoting "Stranger in Paradise" on every take except for the master—perhaps an expression of how he was feeling on the date.43

The other two songs recorded that day were original ballads: "Monk's Mood," which endured several title changes and was first copyrighted a year and a half earlier as "Feel­ing that Way Now," and "'Round ." Both songs were recorded in single takes, and on both arrangements Monk used the horns as harmonic or melodic backdrops to his own improvisations. Both versions are gorgeous.

With three recording sessions over six weeks producing a grand total of fourteen releasable sides, Blue Note was ready to start pressing. Thelonious was anxious to have the fruits of his labor in record stores and on radio stations, but he had to wait for the three-person operation to manufacture the records.

In the meantime, Monk fell into his usual routine: hustling for gigs, composing, and hanging out with family and friends. He had been spending so much time up at Sonny's place that it became custom to divide Thanksgiving and Christmas between his mother's house and

Lyman Place
. On December 27, he was uptown to help Nellie celebrate her twenty-sixth birthday. She had recently left her gig at Borden's Ice Cream and taken a job as a waitress at Chock Full O' Nuts, all the while battling digestive and abdominal problems.44
Monk’s first disc, with "Thelonious" on the A side and "Suburban Eyes" on the B side (Blue Note 542), was finally ready to be shipped out in early January, 1948. On Sunday, January 25, Club 845 in the Bronx became the site of an impromptu release party for Blue Note. Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, featuring Monk and Little Benny Harris, headlined the six-hour affair, which promoter Ray Pino dubbed "Variation in Modern Music."45 The other act on the bill was Blue Note recording artist Babs Gon­zalez and his "Three Bips and a Bop." The Lions and Frank Wolff could not have been more pleased. Thelonious finally had a record of his own to play on his mothers brand new console-style radio/phonograph.46

Lorraine Lion was Blue Note's marketing department. On the night of January 12, she, Alfred, and Frank took Thelonious to three different radio stations to promote the record. Although Monk wasn't always the best interviewee, he took the job seri­ously. He went in a dark suit and tie, with his classic gold-rimmed glasses, but no beret. Accompanying Wolff and the Lions that night was artist, critic, and amateur musician Paul Bacon, an old friend of Lorraine's from the Newark Hot Club. Just out of the service, he had begun working for Blue Note designing album covers. What Bacon thought would be a pretty routine evening turned out to be an unforgettable experi­ence, from the moment he got in the car. "I got to ride in the back seat and Monk cap­tivated me in thirty seconds."47 He found Monk's performance on Fred Robbins s radio show that night particularly amusing. Robbins, host of the 120 Club Show on station WOV, was perhaps the most prominent radio personality in support of the new music. (Sir Charles Thompson had written "Robbins Nest" for Fred.) "Robbins wasn't too deep," recalled Bacon, "and was expecting a light interview with some young musician who was hot to get his records played and make it. But Monk was incurably honest and simply couldn't engage in superficialities even if he wanted to. By the end of the show, Fred took Lorraine aside and told her in harsh terms never to bring this so-and-so up to his studio again. It was a funny scene."48

Lorraine knew she could not change Monk's manner or way of thinking, so she turned what she characterized as strange behavior into selling points. She also under­stood that even die-hard bebop fans might find Monk's music a bit challenging. She therefore set out to sell Monk the artist, and took more than a page out of William Gottlieb’s Down Beat article. Lorraine ran with the idea that Monk was bebop's true founder. "Just as Louis Armstrong wielded the greatest influence on trumpet players and their styles and was one of the bulwarks in the development of Jazz," she opened her first press release, "so Thelonious Monk will some day be regarded as the true insti­gator of the modern trend in music today."49 The laboratory for Monk's initial instiga­tions was Minton's Playhouse. All of the serious musicians, most prominently Dizzy and Bird, headed to

118th Street
to listen to Monk's "weird style on the piano" and to "assimilate his radical ideas." The larger world didn't know he existed, but the musi­cians did, and his champions included such distinguished figures as Mary Lou Wil­liams, Duke Ellington, and Nat "King" Cole. "While Thelonious laid the groundwork, more commercial minds [read: Dizzy] elaborated on his strange, new harmonies and brought the music before the public. Just as Picasso established a new school of modern abstract art, so Thelonious created a new horizon of Jazz expression."50
Lorraine repeats Gottlieb's reportage about Monk's anonymity, adding her own hyperbole for good measure. "A shy and elusive person, Thelonious has been sur­rounded by an aura of mystery, but simply because he considers the piano the most important thing in his life and can become absorbed in composing that people, appointments and the world pass by unnoticed. The results of his frequent withdraw­als from society are tunes whose melodies and harmonies could only come from the fantastic mind of a genius."51 In a follow-up press release, she announced that Blue Note had "actually found the one person who was responsible for this whole new trend in music. The genius behind the whole movement—and we have had the privilege of being the first to put his radical and unorthodox ideas on wax—is an unusual and mys­terious character with the more unusual name of Thelonious Monk. Among musicians, Thelonious' name is treated with respect and awe, for he is a strange person whose pianistics continue to baffle all who hear him."52

Lorraine wasn't just a good press agent; she was a believer. She sent copies of her press release along with cover letters to several jazz magazines and the black press. Her January 13 letter to George Hoefer, imploring him to write a piece on Thelonious for his "Hot Box" column in Down Beat, said more about Monk's behavior and his appearance than his music: "It's impossible to put the strangeness of his characteris­tics into writing," she explained, "and believe me, he's an original." She then goes on to elaborate on his "strangeness": "He's quite tall, slender build and sports a slight goatee topped by massive gold-rimmed glasses. . . . He considers it nothing to be on his feet or at the piano for a week straight, without a drop of sleep, but then makes up for it by sleeping for three days and nights, straight through. He's so loaded with ideas, that before he has time to write them down, he's thought of five others. Ninety percent of his time is spent at the piano, anybody's piano, and it takes an earthquake to pull him away from it."53

Hoefer took the bait, hurriedly running a short piece titled "Pianist Monk Getting Long Awaited Break," in the February 11 issue. He relied solely on Lorraine's letter and press release, taking whole passages verbatim. He emphasized Monk's obscurity, his sleep patterns, his revolutionary role at Minton's, his sartorial style, and the swing kids who mimicked him. ("You've seen his counterpart, the goateed cat with the beret and massive gold-rimmed glasses on

52nd Street
for the past six years, but chances are rare that you've seen the Monk himself."54) Yet, Hoefer reserved very little space for Monk's record, commenting only on his "weird harmonies" and the fact that his "technique is not the greatest but his originality in improvisation is that of a genius."55 Lion suc­ceeded in getting Hoefer to reprint the other critical component of her press kit—that Thelonious started it all. It was Monk, he wrote, that led the "famed sessions at Min-ton's," but it was Diz and Bird who went on to "sell be-bop to a considerable following. They became famous in the process while the man who laid the chord foundations and inspired the harmonic progressions was forgotten, due to his own exclusiveness."56


1    "William P. Gottlieb's Life and Work: A Brief Biography Based on Oral Histories," ammem/wghtml/wgbio.html; see also, William P. Gottlieb, The Golden Age of Jazz (San Francisco: Pomegran­ate Artbooks, 1995).
2    See Down Beat (August 27,1947), 2, 18; "Well, Be-Bop!" Down Beat (May21, 1947), 15.
3   See for example, "Bebop and Old Masters," New Republic (June 30, 1947), 36; "The Jazz Beat: Memo on Bebop," Saturday Review (August 30, 1947), 18-19; "Be-Bop??!!—Man, We Called it Kloop-Mop!!" Met­ronome (April 1947), 21, 44-45; Gilbert McKean, "The Diz and the Bebop," Esquire (October 1947), 212-216; Jack Raes, "Que Pensez-Vous de Be-bop?" Hot Club Magazine (May 1947), 11, 13—14. For an historical accounting of the bebop debates, see Eric Porter, What Is This Thing Called Jazz?: African American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists (Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 54-100; Bernard Gendron, "'Moldy Figs' and Modernists: Jazz at War (1942-1946)," in Jazz Among the Discourses, ed. Krin Gabbard (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995), 31-56.
4   Tadd Dameron, "The Case for Modern Music," Record Changer (February 1948), 5, 16; Mary Lou Williams. "Music and Progress? Jazz Record (November 1947), 23-24; LennieTristano, "What's Right with the Bebop-pers," Metronome (July 1947), 14,31.
5    Bill Gottlieb, "Thelonius [sic] Monk—Genius of Bop: Elusive Pianist Finally Caught in Interview," Down Beat (September 24, 1947), 2.
6   The same issue of Down Beat that carried Gottlieb's profile on Monk also published his review (and photos) of the Thornhill band. Bill Gottlieb, "Thornhill, McKinley Are Superb; Auld's New 9 Piece Band Answer to Bad Biz," Down Beat, 3. Monk's praise for Thornhill is quoted below.
7   All of Gottlieb's photos can be viewed on "William Gottlieb: Photographs from the Golden Age of Jazz,"
8    Gottlieb, "Thelonius [sic] Monk," 2.
9   Ibid., p. 2
10   Ibid., p. 2
11    Lorraine Gordon with Barry Singer, Alive at the Village Vanguard: My Life in and Out of Jazz Time (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corp., 2006), 63.
12    Descriptions of Monk's room from author interviews with Thomas Monk, Jr., Theolonious Monk, Alonzo White, and Charlotte Washington; Ira Peck, "The Piano Man who dug Be-bop," M7; "Creator of 'Be bop' Objects to Name and Changes in His Style," Chicago Defender, March 27, 1948.
13    Born in 1918 in Georgia as Isaac Abrams and raised in Newark, Ike was probably still a teenager when he adopted the name "Quebec." U.S. Census, 1930, Population Schedule: Newark, New Jersey, ED: 52. He knew his way around the music, having started his musical career as a pianist and dancer but picked up the tenor saxophone in 1940 as a member of the Barons of Rhythm. He played in a number of small bands around New York with Kenny Clarke, Benny Carter, Hot Lips Page, Frankie Newton, and the man whose tone he emulated—Coleman Hawkins. Claude Schlouch, In Memory of Ike Quebec: A Discography (Marseilles, France, 1983, rev. 3/1985); Michael Cuscuna, "Ike Quebec," The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Ike Quebec and John Hardee (Mosaic 107, 1984).
14    Richard Cook, Blue Note Records: The Biography (New York: Random House, 2003) ,19-21; Michael Cuscuna and Michel Ruppli, comp., The Blue Note Label: A Discography (New York and Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001), 9.
15    Gordon, Alive at the Village Vanguard, 63.
16   Course, Straight, No Chaser, 48.
17   Cook, Blue Note Records, 6-18; Michael Cuscuna and Michel Ruppli, comp., The Blue Note Label: A Discogra­phy (New York and Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001), xi-xii, 8-16.
18    Gordon, Alive at the Village Vanguard, 33-36; "Lorraine Gordon: Administrator, Village Vanguard," inter­viewed by Ted Panken, March 23, 2002, Artist and Influence, vol. 21 (New York: Hatch-Billops Collection, 2002), 115-116.
19   Quoted in Cuscuna, The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Thelonious Monk, 3.
20   Cuscuna and Ruppli, comp., The Blue Note Label, 16-18.
21    Lorraine Gordon, Alive at the Village Vanguard, 68.
22 Greg Henderson, "Idrees Sulieman Interview," Transcribed by Bob Rusch, Cadence 5, no. 9 (September 1979), 3; "Jazz Encyclopedia Questionnaire: Idrees Sulieman," Vertical Files, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University. 23 Robert Dannin, Black Pilgrimage to Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 35-38, 58-60; Richard Turner, "The Ahmadiyya Mission to Blacks in the United States in the 1920s," Journal of Religious Thought^, no. 2 (Winter-Spring 1988), 50-66; Richard Turner, Islam in the African American Experience (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1997).
24 Moslem Musicians," Ebony (April 1953), 104-11; Claude Clegg, III, An Original Man; Art Taylor, Notes and Tones, 251; Mike Hennessey, "The Enduring Message of Abdullah ibn Buhaina," Jazz Journal International30 (1977), 6; Porter, What Is This Thing Called Jazz?, 78-79.
25   "Moslem Musicians," 111.
26 Ibid., 108. Leslie Course, Art Blakey: Jazz Messenger (New York: Schirmer Trade Books, 2002), 40. She claims he converted to Islam after returning from two years in Africa in 1949, but earlier interviews indicated that he had already launched a Muslim Mission with Talib Dawud in 1947.
27 Porter, What Is This Thing Called Jazz?, 78; "Art Blakey Interview: Part F (taken and transcribed by Bob Rusch), Cadence! (July 1981), 10—11. While the "seventeen" varied, original members included Sahib Shihab (Edmund Gregory) on alto; tenor players Musa Kaleem (Orlando Wright) and Sonny Rollins; Haleen Rasheed (Howard Bowe), trombone; trumpeters Kenny Dorham (another convert who had adopted the name Abdul Hamid), Ray Copeland, and Little Benny Harris; Cecil Payne (baritone sax); Bud Powell, Kenny Drew, and later Walter Bishop, Jr. (Ibrahim Ibn Ismail) held piano duties at different times; and Gary Mapp (bass). Steve Schwartz and Michael Fitzgerald, "Chronology of Art Blakey (and the Jazz Messengers)," http://www.jazz; Henderson, "Idrees Sulieman Interview,' 6. Course mistakenly claims the Messengers began in 1949, after Blakey allegedly returns from Africa, but clearly the group is adver­tised as the Messengers as early as January of 1948, and all other indications suggest they were in existence for much of 1947. Course, Art Blakey, 36-38.
28 Korall,  Drummin 'Men, 134-136; see also, "Art Blakey Interview: Part I," 8-11; "Art Blakey Interview: Part II" (taken and transcribed by Bob Rusch), Cadence 9 (September 1981), 12-13; Peter Danson, "Art Blakey: An Interview by Peter Danson," Coda 173 (1980), 15; Course, Art Blakey, 30-38.
29 For a fine analysis of Blakey s drumming, see Zita Carno, "Art Blakey," Jazz Review 3, no. 1 (January 1959), 6-10, and Korall, Drummin 'Men, 134-140.
30   Quoted in Korall,  Drummin' Men, 137.
31    Quoted in Michael Cuscuna, "Thelonious Monk—The Early Years," The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Thelonious Monk [Sleeve notes] (Santa Monica, CA: Mosaic Records, 1983), 3.
32 Alfred Lion quoted in Hentoff, The Jazz Life, 196.
33 All of these recordings can be heard on Thelonious Monk, The Complete Blue Note Recordings (Blue Note CDS 30363-2); for sequence and unissued takes, see Sheridan, Brilliant Corners, 17.
34 Bertha Hope showed me a manuscript of Elmo Hope's that resembled the A-section of "Off Minor," though the manuscript was not dated. Her discovery and her argument that Monk borrowed the melody from Elmo is persuasive, however. Bertha Hope interview, July 15, 2003.
35 Originally released on Roost 513, but can be heard on Bud Powell, The Complete Blue Note and Roost Recordings (Blue Note 1994).
36 Built on an AABA structure thirty-six measures long (he added four bars to the final A section), it contains numerous examples of rhythmic displacement that gives a sense of shirting time signatures. It has no tonal center and is built on whole-tone harmony as well as chromatic motion, creating a kind of wandering chordal movement that resolves in the first A section in D Major, and the final A section in Db Major.
37   Quoted in Richard Cook, Blue Note Records, 26.
38   A Harlemite of West Indian extraction, Taitt had worked in John Kirby's band with Clarence Brereton—Geraldine Smith's cousin from the neighborhood. It is likely that Brereton recommended Taitt to Monk. John Kirby, John Kirby and His Orchestra, 1945-1946 (Classics). I determined Taitt's birth year and heritage from the U.S. Census, 1920, Population Schedule: Manhattan Borough, ED 819-839.
39    "Moslem Musicians," 104.
40    Dieter Salemann (assisted by Dieter Hartmann and Michael Vogler), Edmund Gregory/Sahib Shihab: Solography, Discography, Band Routes, Engagements, in Chronological Order (Basle, Switzerland, 1986); Roland Baggenaes, "Sahib Shihab," Coda 204 (1985), 6.
41    Sahib Shihab, "Jazz Encyclopedia Questionnaire," Request from Leonard Feather, Vertical File: Sahib Shihab, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University.
42   Nat Hentoff, The Jazz Life, 183.
43   Michael Cuscuna reviewed all of the recordings, including the rejected takes, and made the observation about Taitt's obsession with "Stranger in Paradise." Cuscuna, The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Thelonious Monk, 7.
44    Geraldine Smith interview, February 12, 2004.
45   Amsterdam News, January 24, 1948.
46   Ira Peck, who interviewed Thelonious at his house just two or three weeks after the January 25th gig, describes the new phonograph in his article, "The Piano Man," M7.
47   Paul Bacon interview, July 30, 2001.
48    Cuscuna, The Complete Blue Note Recordings, 3.1 know what he wore because a photo of Monk on Fred Robbins's show, taken by Frank Wolff, was published in Nard Griffin, To Be or Not to Bop (New York: Leo Work­man, 1948), 9.
49    "Thelonious Monk," (ca. early January, 1948), Blue Note Archives, Capitol Records. I'm grateful to Bruce Lundvall, Bev McCord and John Ray for their assistance gaining access to Blue Note's files. The release was also recently reprinted in Gordon, Alive at the Village Vanguard, 60.
50    Ibid.
51    Ibid.
52   Thelonious Monk press release (ca. February 1948), Blue Note Archives, Capitol Records; and quoted in Ira Peck, "The Piano Man," M7.
53    Lorraine Lion to George Hoefer, January 13, 1948, reprinted in Gordon, Alive at the Village Vanguard, 61. Note that the original letter was misdated 1947.
54   George Hoefer, "Pianist Monk Getting Long Awaited Break," Down Beat (February 11,1948), 11.
55 Ibid. ,11. And he made a couple of slips, like identifying Danny Quebec West and Ike Quebec as the same person, or attributing Dizzy Gillespie s composition "Emanon" to Monk. There is a possible explanation for Hoefer’s error regarding the authorship of "Emanon." Recall that Monk's original title for "52nd Street Theme" was "Nameless," so it is easy to assume that "No Name" spelled backward is meant to be the same title, though the song is quite different. "Emanon" is a standard, fairly ordinary blues riff, uncharacteristic of anything Monk has ever written.
56   Ibid., 11.