Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Monk Redux [From the Archives]

© -Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The reissue of Professor Kelley's [who as since it original publication moved crosstown from USC to become a professor of history at UCLA] seminal biography of  Monk which has been updated with a new afterword reminded me of this posting which first appeared on the blog in two-parts in February 2010.

While combining them into one feature does make for a very long "read," it does serve the purpose of "putting it all in one place" in the archives.

The content is drawn from Chapter 10: "The George Washington of Bebop (September 1947-August 1948)" of Robin D.G. Kelley's Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Legend [New York: Free Press, 2009] and it is used with the expressed permission of the author.

Have you ever wondered what the fate of Thelonious and his music might have been if Orrin Keepnews of Riverside Records hadn't recorded Monk when he did in the 1950's?

I think Orrin's act of courage kept Monk from falling into total obscurity and made Professor Kelley's book about Thelonious possible.

NB: Although the original numerical notations have been left in place, the footnotes that they designate can be found at the end of each part 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. PetersburgFlorida 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 AlbanyGeorgia, 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," http://memory.loc.gov/ 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," http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/wghtml/wghome.html.
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: NewarkNew 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 WestportCTGreenwood 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 WestportCT: 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 YorkOxford 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 discography.com/Artists/Blakey/chron.htm; 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.


"The George Washington of Bebop" (September 1947-August 1948) …. Part 2

On the subject of researching and writing his book on Monk, Robin D.G. Kelley closes his work by stating:

“If I’ve learned anything from this fourteen-year adventure, it is that duplicating Monk’s sound has never been the point. ‘Play yourself,” he’d say. ‘Play yourself’ lay at the core of Monk’s philosophy; he understood it as art’s universal injunction. He demanded originality in others and embodied it in everything he did – in his piano technique, in his dress, in his language, his humor, in the way he danced, in the way he loved his family and raised his children, and above all in his compositions. Original did not mean being different for the hell of it. For Monk, to be original meant reaching higher than one’s limits, striving for something startling and memorable, and never being afraid to make mistakes. Originality is not always mastery, nor does it always yield success. But it is very hard work.” [p.451]

You know, anybody can play a composition like ’Body and Soul’ and use far-out chords and make it sound wrong. It’s making it sound right that’s not easy. - Monk

© -Robin D. G. Kelley, reproduced with permission. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Here is the continuation and conclusion of Robin D.G. Kelley’s tenth chapter from his comprehensive and authoritative book on Thelonious Monk’s life, times and music.

The editorial staff would once again like to express its appreciation to Professor Kelley for permission to feature this selection from his excellent book on JazzProfiles.

By way of differentiation, unlike the photographic images that were used in Part 1 of this presentation which were of the time period that forms the chapter’s chronological focus, some of those appearing in this second segment are from images taken later in Monk’s life.

Throughout his career, Monk was a fascinating photographic subject and the many intriguing images of him form a perfect complement to his captivating and absorbing music. The photographic lenses of such artists as William Claxton, Bob Parent, Chuck Stewart, Lee Tanner and Francis Wolff, among others, certainly thought that this was the case.

Nineteen forty-eight became the year Thelonious Monk was invented. In fewer than two hundred words, Lorraine Lion—building on William Gottlieb—established the lens through which the entire world would come to see Monk. Elusive, myste­rious, strange, eccentric, weird, genius—these were the foundational adjectives that formed the caricature of Monk. It was Lion who dubbed Thelonious the "High Priest of Bebop,"57 re-presenting him to jazz audiences as a kind of mystic. His reputation for lateness, unreliability, and drunkenness only added to his image as an eccentric, as did stories of his sleeplessness and nocturnal adventures in search of someone's piano to play. Neither Lion nor Gottlieb nor anyone else seems to have considered that these episodes, or his fits of obsessive creativity, could have been early signs of manic depres­sion. Monk's behavior was weird and made good copy. Blue Note's marketing cam­paign marked the beginning of Monk's iconization, his transformation into what critic Nat Hentoff called "a stock cartoon figure for writers of Sunday supplement pieces about the exotica of jazz." Monk became a novelty, marketed to the public for his strangeness—his name, his music, his bodily gestures, his famous non-verbal commu­nication, his unpredictability. "Pictures of Monk in dark glasses and goatee," Hentoff later observed, "would usually be captioned 'Mad Monk' or 'The High Priest of Bop.' Exaggerated stories of his personal life were the 'substance' of the articles. There was no attempt to discuss the nature or seriousness of his musical intentions. Monk became part of the Sabbath sideshow of resurrected murderers, celebrated divorce cases, and Elsa Maxwell."58

Lion scored a huge coup when she convinced Ralph Ingersoll, the silk-stocking Communist and founding editor of the liberal newsmagazine PM, to run a lengthy profile of Thelonious in February of 1948.59 Ingersoll assigned the piece to arts and culture critic Ira Peck. Peck wasn't really a jazz guy so much as a very smart dabbler in the arts. 60 As a feature writer for PM for the last five years, Peck had not yet encoun­tered anyone like Monk. At their initial meeting in Monk's apartment, Thelonious said so little that Peck was ready to abandon the project, until Lorraine Lion insisted that she be present for the interview.61 Monk eventually opened up, offering honest criti­cism and bold claims about his contribution to the music, but not much else. Much of Peck's story consisted of detailed descriptions of Monk's apartment, commentary from friends, acquaintances, and critics of the new music, and, unsurprisingly, Blue Note press material. Before he could talk about Monk, however, Peck had to make the case for bebop as high art, particularly for a readership more accustomed to opera, sympho­nies, and art museums than modern jazz. He opened with the acknowledgment that critics "have called [bebop] a kind of 'surrealist' jazz and have drawn analogies between it and the works of Picasso and Dali. Musically, it has been likened to the works of Stravinsky, whom most be-bop musicians are known to admire." After emphasizing its dissonant sonorities and the "breakneck pace" of its rhythms, he went on to quote classical pianist Eugene List, who said "Be-bop is to jazz ... as atonality is to classical music. It uses the enlarged harmony structure of jazz but is more cerebral than emo­tional. I like it. Any intellectual exercise in music is fun if you want to take your mind off anything. I wish I could play first-rate be-bop."62 Monk himself reinforced Peck and List's characterization of modern jazz by making a spirited case for experimental music in opposition to "commercial jazz." Bebop's detractors, Monk argued, "don't under­stand the music and in most cases never heard it. Weird means something you never heard before. It's weird until people get around to it. Then it ceases to be weird." "It's the modern music of today," he added. "It makes other musicians think—just like Picasso. It has to catch on."63

Without elaborating on the music, however, Peck falls back on Lion's familiar description of Monk's odd behavior. He hardly sleeps, eats when he feels like it, "wan­ders around from one friend's house to another, or from one club to another, working out his ideas on the piano," and still lives at home with his mother. For this part of the story, Peck reused the testimony of Teddy Hill. While acknowledging his genius, Hill described him as "undependable," adding that "Monk ... is so absorbed in his music he appears to have lost touch with everything else." Hill claimed Monk could barely hold a conversation without his mind wandering and that he was known to forget his girlfriend in the club. Peck's portrait also relied on anonymous friends. One "friend" described a "girl that idolizes him," lighting his cigarettes and whatnot, but in whom Monk showed very little interest. "He tells me that women are a 'heckle' sometimes. He doesn't want to be tied down to anything except his music." The woman in ques­tion lived in Monk's building and dropped by "frequently to clean his room and wash his dishes."64 The anonymous informant may have been speaking of Marion, who was still living in the Phipps Houses a couple of doors down, and came by often to help her mother by straightening up.65 For Nellie, it must have been a difficult thing to read.
For all the anecdotes and extravagant description, the story never lost its core theme: Monk was bebop's true originator. This time Monk sheepishly accepted the idea. He told Peck that the new music "just happened. I just felt it. It came to me. Something was being created differently without my trying to." He explained that what Dizzy and Bird were playing in 1948 was not what he originally worked out at Minton's. Monk spoke candidly about not getting much recognition but admitted, "I don't get around as much. . . . I'm sort of underground in bebop." And he added that one of his biggest problems was finding musicians capable of playing his songs. Teddy Hill was quoted again: "Monk seemed more like the guy who manufactured the product rather than commercialized it. Dizzy has gotten all the exploitation because Dizzy branched out and got started. Monk stayed right in the same groove."66

Although it seems unlikely that Lorraine Lion or these journalists intended to pit Monk against Gillespie, some tension did exist between them, or at least some compe­tition over their respective narratives of bebop's origins. Just a few weeks before the PM article appeared, Dizzy announced that he was writing a book on bebop with the assis­tance of Leonard Feather. The article appeared in the black-owned California Eagle, and it characterized Gillespie as "the creator of this newest jazz idiom."67

In the end, Monk and the Blue Note crew were pleased with the article. Miss Bar­bara was not. She was quite upset with Peck's colorful, yet degrading, description of her apartment—not to mention the accompanying photograph. He wrote about how her soot-darkened walls and worn-down linoleum "contrasted incongruously with a large new, shiny white refrigerator." As a proud, dignified Southern black woman, such language was embarrassing. Her complaints to Lorraine fell on deaf ears, largely because Lorraine could not understand the deeply ingrained sense of modesty and pride working-class black women possessed. For women who made a living cleaning other people s houses and offices, keeping a clean and orderly house of their own took on great importance.68 Lorraine simply dismissed her concerns and practically chastised her for failing to recognize the importance of such publicity: "Look, Mrs. Monk. Your son is going to be very famous. This is just the beginning. You will have to get used to this."69
Lorraine Lion sent out another round of press kits just in time for the release of Monk’s second 78 (Blue Note 543), with "Well, You Needn't" and "'Round Mid­night." The Lions had the bright idea to invite a select group of writers to a party at their Greenwich Village apartment to listen to the test pressings of the latest disc. Among the invitees was the new managing editor of The Record Changer, Orrin Keepnews. He had been hired by Bill Grauer, his former Columbia University classmate, who had pur­chased the record collectors' newsletter in order to turn it into a first-rate, modern jazz magazine. A native New Yorker, Keepnews earned a bachelor's degree in English from Columbia in 1943, served in the Pacific theater as a radar operator on B-29 bombers, then returned to school to pursue a graduate degree. To make ends meet, he took a job as a junior editor at Simon & Schuster. When he took over the editorship of The Record Changer, he was still working and going to school. But he could not resist the chance to write about what he loved—jazz.70

The Lions had read Keepnews's first column with great interest, and they had heard about him from their friend Paul Bacon, whom Grauer had hired as the magazine's artistic director. They thought that if Keepnews could only meet Thelonious he might be persuaded to write a piece on their newest artist. "I took the bait and swallowed it whole," Keepnews confessed. "And with the arrogance of ignorance I took Monk off into a corner and proceeded to do an interview with him." He was told he couldn't get a complete sentence out of the High Priest, but he did. "I had a lovely time talking to him, frankly."71

The article, which appeared in the April issue of The Record Changer, actually focused on the music, not Monk's eccentricities or behavior. Rather than fold Monk into the bebop school, Keepnews argued that his approach to modern piano, particularly in an ensemble context, was in a class of its own. He had his own school, so to speak, anchored in a strong rhythmic style and possessed of "a sly, wry, satiric humor that has a rare maturity." He wasn't too impressed with Monk's horn players (except for Danny Quebec West), whom he found "too steeped in standard bebop; their solos sometimes fail to follow the complex pattern being established by the rhythm unit, and the ensembles tend, on occasion, to fall into standard bop cliches."72 Neverthe­less, Keepnews found more musicality and coherence in Monk's recordings than in most modern jazz. Monks music "has a feeling of unity, warmth, and purpose that contrasts sharply with the emotionless, jittered-up pyrotechnics of Fifty-Second Street 'modernism.'" Keepnews did get a few things wrong: he places Monk at Minton's in 1938; has him recording with Hawkins in 1940 rather than 1944; and puts him on the road with Hawk for two years, "which meant that he was not on hand during the period when 'bebop' . . . was first being stylized and strongly plugged."73 Still, for an impromptu hour-long conversation in the corner of a room with a stranger, Keepnews accomplished a lot.

Besides contacting the jazz press, Lorraine Lion made a concerted effort to reach out to the black press. Most publications turned her down, including a fairly new but widely circulated photo magazine called Ebony.74 The Pittsburgh Courier took the bait, running virtually the entire press release with Lorraine Lion's byline (except for the paragraph describing Monk as mysterious, absorbed, and "shy and elusive").75 Dan Burley of the Amsterdam News reproduced many of the same references to Monk's "aura of mystery" and his elusive behavior, while playing up the rivalry between Dizzy and Thelonious over who deserves credit for originating bebop. Burley minces no words: "Off Thelonious' groundwork, commercial-minded lads constructed a money empire and brought bebop to the public. But Thelonious has always remained in the shadows of obscurity and while others rise to fame and fortune, he has to struggle as best he can to get along."76

The Chicago Defender also bought Lion's story about Monk's eccentricity, and they accepted the claim that Thelonious was the real progenitor of bebop. Rather than run the press release verbatim, the editors sent their New York correspondent to Thelonious's house to get the scoop on the "Creator of 'Bebop.'" Remarkably, Monk talked a lot. For whatever reason, he shared his opinions fully and freely. First, he took issue with the name bebop. "I don't like to think of my music as bebop—but as modern music. I don't dig the word. It doesn't mean anything, it's just scatting like hi-de-hi-de-ho or se-bop-baty-iou." Second, he took issue with the music itself, sug­gesting that what often was labeled bebop lacked coherence, pretty melodies, and a strong, swinging beat—all qualities he believed were essential to good music. "I like the music to sound melodious. . . . People have to know harmony. It's harder for people to understand bebop who don't know music." He adds, "Everybody has a dif­ferent conception of melody. That's why some music is prettier than other [sic]. You should always have melody in the piece." And rhythm. "I play with a swing beat. But everything's got a beat, you live by beats—the beat of your heart. If your heart stops beating that's curtains."77 Monk was sure of the impact he'd made on modern jazz: "I hear a lot of my influence in modern music." He complained that "The public hasn't been hearing the right music," but continued to hope that "By listening and paying attention, [the public] can tell the difference between good and bad music. They'll dig. They'll learn."78

In many ways, it was a remarkable interview. Monk was clear, coherent, assertive, even witty. But when the issue of his love life came up, Monk was evasive once again. Perhaps protecting Nellie's privacy or his own, he was emphatic about his bachelor sta­tus, announcing that he had no plans to marry and was patiently waiting for "a beauti­ful millionaire woman." Whether or not Nellie laughed it off or was genuinely nervous about their future, Thelonious was suddenly getting a lot of attention and exhibited, at least on the page, a slightly inflated sense of self. And in fact there were a few millionaire women in search of their own "High Priest of Bebop." But Nellie had been waiting too long not to consider the possibility of matrimony.

Meanwhile, Monk continued to make a name for himself. On February 16, Monk's quartet (Sulieman, Blakey, and bassist Curley Russell) participated in radio station WNYC's Ninth Annual "American Music Program." Surprisingly, during the fourteen-minute broadcast, the group did not play any of Thelonious's compositions.79 The fol­lowing month, Thelonious returned to Minton's Playhouse, now as a money-earning bandleader.80 It had been years since he was on the payroll. Teddy Hill was now the co-owner, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis oversaw the Monday night sessions as musical direc­tor, and Monk's band—with Sahib Shihab, Al McKibbon, and Blakey—was the main attraction. Sometimes Idrees Sulieman joined the group, or Ike Quebec or Danny Quebec West showed up. These became Monk's stable of musicians, the artists who knew the music and could keep up with him.

Growing fame did not always guarantee ideal performing conditions. On April 30, he and some friends from the neighborhood, calling themselves the "San Juan Hill Association," rented the Golden Gate Ballroom on 142nd and Lenox Avenue in Harlem and organized a concert featuring Monk. The publicity billed Thelonious as "The High Priest of Be-Bop." They brought the popular "MacBeth the Great and his Calypso Serenadors" to open for Monk's group, which consisted of Sulieman, both Quebecs, Curley Russell, and Blakey. For a mere buck and a half, dancers could enjoy not only virtually nonstop music from 10:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m., but they could meet the lovely "Miss San Juan Hill," winner of the recent neighborhood beauty pageant.81
The event attracted a decent turnout. Harlem and Brooklyn's West Indian com­munity came out in droves to hear MacBeth's raucous performances of "Man Smart, Woman Smarter" and "Hold 'Em Joe." But there were glitches when Monk's group took the bandstand. Sitting at the Golden Gate's old grand piano, Monk found a dead key while the band was tuning up. No problem; he had had his share of dead keys and broken strings. But then he noticed that the pedal post was falling apart. Every time he hit the sustain pedal it jiggled uncomfortably. Once the band hit, the pedal got worse. A few choruses into the first song, Monk decided it had to go. He reached down to rip it out with one hand, while continuing to play with the other. When that didn't work, he bent down farther and applied both hands to the post. As Paul Bacon observed, "There was a slight crack, a ripping sound, and off came the whole works, to be flung aside as Monk calmly resumed playing." By the time the pianist for MacBeth returned for another set, he was a little thrown off by the sudden reconfiguration of the piano.82 The dancers didn't care; MacBeth still rocked the house.

Monk's road to fame felt longer and more treacherous once the reviews appeared. Down Beat's reviewer gave Monks first disc only two stars each for "Thelonious" and "Suburban Eyes." He wrote, "On his own solo spots, there seem to be points at which Monk is thinking about the stock returns or the seventh at Pimlico—anything but his piano. He also has several passages where he plays straight striding Waller piano. As a modernist, this can hardly be excused. All present-day piano players have right hands with eight fingers and a rigid claw on the left hand. . . . From the Monk we expect better."83 The reviewer for Metronome concurred, dismissing "Thelonious" with a letter-grade of "C," in part because he plays "an ancient piano style" (i.e., stride). "Suburban Eyes" scored a slightly higher grade of C+, largely due to the strength of Sulieman, Danny Quebec West, and Billy Smith, but "Monk's piano nullifies this capable trio's efforts."8'
The second disc, with "Well, You Needn't" and " 'Round Midnight," did not fare much better. The review in Down Beat said, "The Monk is undoubtedly a man of con­siderable ability both technically and harmonically but his abstractions on these sides are just too too—and I played them early in the morning and late at night. 'Needn't' doesn't require a Juilliard diploma to understand, but 'Midnight' is for the super hip alone. Why they list the personnel on a side where the whole band plays like a vibra-toless organ under the piano solo is a mystery."85 Billboard proved more sympathetic, though the magazine's witty one-liners can hardly be called reviews. About "Theloni­ous," for example, this is all the reviewer wrote: "Grandaddy of the beboppers, pianist Monk turns out a controversial jazz disking worked out on one tone riff." Using a rat­ing system ranging from 0 to 100, the Billboard reviewer gave "Thelonious" a 68 and "Suburban Eyes" 67.86

The most sympathetic review to appear that spring was written by someone whose authority could have easily been questioned: Paul Bacon. Bacon, after all, was friends with the Lions and had worked for Blue Note when Monk was recording with them. And he had befriended Monk, seeing him often at Minton's Playhouse and sometimes hanging out with him a little between sets.87 On the other hand, the jazz world was so incestuous that it wasn't uncommon for record producers to review recordings— sometimes even their own projects.88 Bacon was a real fan and a careful listener. In a lengthy review of the second disc for The Record Changer, he assigns Monk a central role in shaping the direction of modern music, despite the fact that his unorthodox style had cost him jobs. Bacon believed Monk's strengths lay in his use of space, his conception of rhythm ("Monk has a beat like ocean waves—no matter how sudden, spasmodic or obscure, his little inventions, he rocks irresistibly on"), and his ability to draw on the history of music in unpredictable ways. "He plays riffs that are older than Bunk Johnson," Bacon wrote, "but they don't sound the same; his beat is familiar but he does something strange there, too—he can make a rhythm seem almost sepa­rate, so that what he does is inside it, or outside it. He may play for a space in nothing but smooth phrases and then suddenly jump on a part and repeat it with an intensity beyond description."89

All the good press in the world wasn't enough to sell records. Lorraine could not sell Monk. Downtown record stores were a bust because "they thought he lacked tech­nique."90 She had no luck in Harlem, either. She lugged boxes of 78s uptown, but "the guys in those record stores would say, 'He can't play. He has two left hands.'"91 She even traveled the country with her case of 78s, with little success, though she had no trouble selling other Blue Note artists. "I went to Philly, Baltimore, a whole lineup, Cleveland, Chicago.... I had to battle all the way to get them to buy a Monk record and listen to him."92

But selling records and winning converts is not the same thing. While Monk did nothing for the jazz establishment, the record collectors and Down Beat readers, a growing number of black musicians, writers, and artists heard in Monk's music a dis­tillation of the modern age. Monk found a hearing early on among writers like Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes, and his Blue Note recordings had a profound effect on a fourteen-year-old Newark kid named LeRoi Jones ("Monk was my main man"93), who was destined to become one of the most important poets of the postwar era. Thelonious inspired visual artists such as Romare Bearden and Norman Lewis, who spent many evenings at Minton's and heard in Monk the musical equivalent of abstract expres­sionism.94 The clearest manifestation of Monk's importance for self-proclaimed black Modernists is the 1948 publication of Nard Griffins slim volume, To Be or Not to Bop. A little-known Harlem writer who gained some notoriety as a jazz critic, Griffin set out to give the new music intellectual legitimacy while defusing the pitched battles between boppers and traditionalists. Rejecting the term "bebop" in favor of "the New Listen" or "the new movement in modern music," Griffin identified Monk, along with Bird and Diz, as one of its founding fathers. He called Monk "one of the more progres­sive minded men in music.... He too has contributed much to modern jazz and offers something new and different in piano work."95 Monk and the emerging generation of modernists had created an art form that served as a metaphor for the modern age: "The next decade or so will bring about an even greater transfiguration, thus coincid­ing music with other developments of the period. In this day of atomic progress, jet propulsion, and many seemingly fantastic inventions and ideas, such as rockets and 'the new look' there can be no wonder that a new and dynamic idea in music is offered in the guise of BeBop."96
Monk probably saw Griffin's book, as it made the rounds among black musicians in Harlem. (He may have even teased Dizzy years later for stealing the title for his own memoir!) But the assessment that mattered most was beyond reach of his eyes and ears. During the summer of 1948, while Duke Ellington's band was traveling by train in the southern coast of England, trumpeter Ray Nance decided to pass the time away by lis­tening to records on a little portable phonograph he had picked up. "I put on one of my Thelonious Monk records. Duke was passing by in the corridor, and he stopped and asked, 'Who's that playing?' I told him. 'Sounds like he's stealing some of my stuff,' he said. So he sat down and listened to my records, and he was very interested. He under­stood what Monk was doing."97

Meanwhile, 1948 was turning out to be Monks busiest year since he left Hawkins. When his stint at Minton’s ended, Monte Kay offered him a short gig at a club he was managing called the Royal Roost. In its past life, the Roost was a nondescript chicken joint on Broadway and West 47th Street, but once Monte Kay took over, it became "the Metropolitan Bopera House," or the "House that Bop Built." Bird, Dizzy, Lester Young, and Tadd Dameron were among the featured artists, and "Symphony Sid" Torin, the celebrated jazz dj, was the master of ceremonies. The Roost attracted a younger crowd (it even had a milk bar for teens) and was all about the music. Patrons not interested in drinking could pay ninety cents to sit in bleacher seats. It had no dance floor, no fancy revues, just bebop.98 Thelonious led several sessions at the Roost during part of May and June with a band that included Milt Jackson and bassists John Simmons and Curley Russell. Dozens of musicians sat in, from Bird to tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray." Although later sessions with Tadd Dameron, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bird were broadcast from the Royal Roost, none of Monk's sessions received airplay, something about which he would grumble in later years.

Many Roost regulars were still unaccustomed to Monks style. Even some of the musicians didn't know what to do with him. Bassist John Simmons couldn't follow Monk when they first started working together. "He played between the keys, he played against the meter, and he would just play all over the piano, you know. It wasn't anything you could follow. If you didn't know the tune, you couldn't play with him. Now, if you're playing by ear, you had to listen to the melodic line. So I trained my ears to listening to Bags, you know, Milt Jackson. I'd just throw Monk out of my ear. I just closed my ears to him completely." When that didn't work, Simmons turned to cocaine, reefer, and Seagram's VO: "I was resorting to this to try to get way spaced out to keep up with Monk, and I couldn't catch him... ."100

Largely because of his association with the Roost and with Symphony Sid's "bebop all-stars," Monk was invited to play a benefit for Sydenham Hospital in Harlem held on June 9. It was the first of many benefit concerts he would participate in. Sydenham had been struggling for some time, facing severe financial shortfalls, made worse by the resignation of its director. The administration scrambled to pull together several emergency fundraisers just to keep its doors open.101 Nat "King" Cole, one of Monk's favorite pianists, headlined the star-studded event. Besides the usual suspects (Bird, Miles Davis, Tadd Dameron, Max Roach), some of the more prominent participants included comedians Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, and Zero Mostel, the famous dance duo the Nicholas Brothers, Jimmie Lunceford's band, and singer Thelma Carpen­ter. Monk brought his own sextet—Sulieman, both Quebecs, Curley Russell, and Blakey—though given the number of artists on the bill, they probably only performed a couple of tunes. Still, it was a special night for Thelonious, not because of who was there but where they played: the event was held at Central Needle Trades High School, Nellie's alma mater.102

On Monday, June 28, while Monk was leaving the Roost after his last Sunday night set, police rolled up on him and discovered a small bag of marijuana in his possession. He was arrested, held in the Tombs overnight, and arraigned.103 Marijuana possession, which had been outlawed by the federal government eleven years earlier, was consid­ered a misdemeanor in New York State.104 Between Monk's meager income and con­tributions from Sonny, Geraldine, and Nellie, they were able to raise the modest bail money; he was released the next day to await a trial date. Misdemeanor or not, posses­sion of reefer was punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment "not exceed­ing one year."105 He also faced unemployment: The Roost never let him come back.

According to Nellie, Monk's arrest and his consequent joblessness were no accident. She insisted that the management—in this instance, Monte Kay—had set Thelonious up because they wanted to replace him.106 Though the evidence is purely circumstan­tial, if the Roost wanted to get rid of Monk, his arrest came at a convenient time. Monte Kay found Monk's music interesting and had worked with him on and off since Monk's time with Hawkins at the Down Beat Club. But he still saw Monk as a "troubled guy and not too reliable."107 Regardless of what really went down the morning of June 28, the consequences proved disastrous.
Three days following his release from jail, Monk was back in the studio for another Blue Note session, despite the current recording ban called by the AFM.108 His com­mitment to the label was unshakable. Blue Note was preparing to release another 78 from the fall '47 sessions—"Off Minor" and "Evonce"—and the Lions felt he needed more music in the can. Frustrated by their inability to sell Monk's records, they decided to try something different. First, they included Milt Jackson as a featured artist on the date. Jackson had begun to gain a bit of a following as a soloist with Dizzy Gil-lespie and Howard McGhee, and in the spring of 1948 he briefly formed his own band with John Lewis and Kenny Clarke.109 Jackson was a crowd favorite; his solos swung hard and seemed to lift the audience. Second, Blue Note and Monk decided to add a couple of vocal numbers. Monk hired crooner Kenny "Pancho" Hagood, whom he knew and performed with when they both were in Dizzy Gillespie's big band in 1946. Monk even changed the rhythm section, bringing John Simmons, the bassist from the Royal Roost, and drummer Rossiere "Shadow" Wilson. Neither Simmons nor Wilson was strongly identified with bebop, but both artists were incredibly versa­tile and had worked with swing bands representing different eras. Simmons recorded with everyone, from James P. Johnson and Big Sid Catlett to Ben Webster, Billie Holi­day, and Coleman Hawkins.110 Wilson was best known for his work with the Count Basic Orchestra, though he also played with Lionel Hampton, Benny Carter, and Earl Hines.111 For whatever reason, Monk was looking for a change, and he put together a more mature band. Everyone in the quartet had an established reputation and a fairly long resume, although Monk was still the elder of the group.

Monk's choice of swing-era veterans and modernists paid off. The band cut six sides in nine takes, two of which were new compositions: "Evidence," based on the changes from "Just You, Just Me," was still being composed when Monk first recorded, and it's a stripped-down version of what the song will become. "Misterioso," the other new tune, was Monk's only twelve-bar blues to date. The band also updated a couple of older Monk compositions: the Minton's theme song "Epistrophy" and "I Mean You." Both songs are radical departures from earlier recordings by Cootie Williams and Coleman Hawkins, respectively. They are more angular and dissonant, and Monk's accents on "I Mean You" are more off-center without losing a sense of swing. He brilliantly echoes Jackson's interpretation of the opening theme and plays countermelodies so jarring and unusual that they overwhelm the melody.

If Wolff and the Lions thought the addition of a couple of vocal numbers might make Monk more palatable to a popular audience, they were wrong. Monk wasn't backing a singer for a house band; he was leading his own recording session, trying to make music on his own terms. His reading of the standards "All the Things You Are" and "I Should Care" with Kenny "Pancho" Hagood were startling. Monk and Jackson create a dense chaos of lush, dissonant fills that threaten to overwhelm Hagood, who had enough trouble trying to stay in tune. The effect is as if Monk and Jackson are hav­ing a bizarre conversation behind Hagood's back, and their harmonically adventurous figures not only crash into each other but strip these songs of romanticism, investing them with humor.112 But if Jackson and Monk had fun, Hagood did not. Always the task master, Thelonious made Hagood sing "I Should Care" out of his range, despite his protestations. According to John Simmons, "Pancho's throat was sore for a week. Couldn't get him to sing a note. He hurt himself."113
All the songs on the date, particularly Monk's musical dialogues with Milton Jack­son, exemplify Monk's characteristic parallel voices, collective improvisation, and lay­ering of melodic lines and countermelodies. In these and other recordings, he invents countermelodies, incorporates arpeggios (outlining chords in single notes, often emphasizing the most dissonant tonalities), and plays many different "runs" down the piano—particularly runs built on whole-tone scales. Monk, in other words, conceived of the piano as an orchestral instrument. He thought in multiple lines—two, three, even four—and played independent rhythmic lines with his left and right hands. It was a key to Monk as a composer, improviser, and arranger—three components of making music that he treated as inseparable.114 For Monk, the composition was not just the melody but the entire performance. He had little interest in "blowing sessions." Even when musicians were improvising together, he expected a level of orchestration that would sustain the essential elements of the piece.

Thelonious left the studio on a high. It seemed like nothing could bring him down—neither the fact that he was looking at a possible drug conviction and jail time, that he was jobless, nor that his bosses at the Royal Roost chose Tadd Dameron, a pia­nist Monk believed "really couldn't play . . . couldn't finger nothing, hardly,"115 to lead the house band. The feeling didn't last very long, however. A few days after the session, someone handed Thelonious a copy of the latest New Yorker magazine with Richard Boyer's piece on "Bop." It was a strange article—a publicity vehicle for Dizzy, a sensa­tional and inaccurate expose of bebop, and a provocation. The article positioned Monk and Dizzy as adversaries, labeling Gillespie the "Abraham Lincoln of jazz" (against Monk's "George Washington") for his role in freeing the music "from a weak banal­ity" of swing and "irregular rhythm and strange new chord combinations."116 Boyer called into question the publicity Monk received proclaiming him the progenitor of the music. "There are devotees of bebop music," he wrote, "who believe that the Monk, as Thelonious is sometimes called, had more to do with the origin of bebop than Dizzy did." He added, "There is a certain coolness between the two men, and their relations are rather formal."117 He even raised doubts as to who between them initiated the beret, sunglasses, and goatee.

Boyer's caricature of Monk is at times flattering and at others silly or degrading. He describes Monk (who was approaching his thirty-first birthday) as "a somber, scholarly twenty-one-year-old Negro with a bebop beard, who played piano with a sacerdotal air, as if the keyboard were an altar and he an acolyte." To add to the pretensions of the por­trait, Boyer attributes the following quote to Thelonious: "We liked Ravel, Stravinsky, Debussy, Prokofieff, Schoenberg... and maybe we were a little influenced by them."1 ] If the quote is authentic, it was undoubtedly a response to a leading question—e.g., did Stravinsky or modern composers influence the development of modern jazz? Boyer even claims that Monk declared himself Arab. "Thelonious sometimes forgets that he was born on West Sixty-third Street and announces that he is a native of Damascus."11 It's hard to imagine what questions would have elicited that one.
What hurt Monk most, however, was the reminder that for all his hard work, for all the press he had received, for all the gigs he had cobbled together, for all the recording sessions and requisite rehearsals, for all the sidemen too green or too lazy to play his music correctly, he was broke and Dizzy was rich. The article reported that Dizzy's com­bined income for 1948 was expected to exceed $25,000, and that over the past eight years he had earned $20,000 in royalties from recording.120

Monk, on the other hand, had no work. He passed the time writing, visiting friends and family—playing checkers, basketball, Ping-Pong, and double-dutch with his nieces and nephews ("He was a good turner," his niece Charlotte recalled 121)— checking in on Nellie, smoking reefer, dropping Benzedrine or "bennies" every once in a while, and preparing for his court date. He also sought out places to play, sitting in wherever he could. On July 11, for example, he dropped by the Onyx Club where Charlie Parker was leading a quintet with Miles Davis, Duke Jordan (piano), Tommy Potter (bass), and Max Roach. With the High Priest in the house, Jordan gave up the piano stool so Monk and the band could blow on his original composition, "Well, You Needn't." Saxophonist and amateur audio documentarian Dean Benedetti was in the audience with his recorder and captured some of Monk and Bird's brief musical dia­logue. Monk's comping is so strong and so angular that even Parker gets a little flustered toward the end of the recording.122 But the priest wasn't trying to dethrone the prince.

On August 31, the case of The State of New York vs. Thelonious Monk finally came on the docket. Despite positive testimony from Monk's closest associates, including Alfred Lion, the judge found him guilty as charged and sentenced him to thirty days in theTombs.”123


57 Cuscuna, The Complete Blue Note Recordings, 3.
58 Hentoff, The Jazz Life, 184.
59 Gordon, Alive at the Village Vanguard, 66-67; on Ingersoll, see Roy Hoopes, Ralph Ingersoll: A Biography (New York: Atheneum, 1985).
60 In her memoir, Gordon refers to "Seymour Peck" when she actually meant Ira. Seymour was Ira's older brother and a more prominent literary figure on the New York scene. He also wrote for PM and became a major drama critic and editor for the New York Times Arts and Leisure section (after surviving a bout of Red-baiting during the McCarthy period). He was killed in a car accident in 1985. Ira Peck followed his older brother's path, writ­ing drama, film, and television criticism for the New York Times, as well as juvenile biography and history for Scholastic. See Herbert Mitgang, "Seymour Peck: Times Editor for 32 Years, Killed in Crash," New York TimesJanuary 2,1985; "Ira Peck," Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2002, http://galenet.galegroup.com.
61 Gordon, Alive at the Village Vanguard, 66—67. Surprisingly, Peck never once mentions the fact that she is pres­ent during the interview.
Peck, "The Piano Man," 7.
Ibid., 7.
Ibid., 7.
Alonzo White, interview, February 23, 2004.
Peck, "The Piano Man," 7.
"Dizzy Writing Book on Be-Bop," California EagleFebruary 5, 1948.
See for example Tera Hunter's brilliant book, To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997).
69 Gordon, Alive at the Village Vanguard, 68; see also, Course, Straight, No Chaser, 55.
70 Jesse Hamlin, "A Life in Jazz," Columbia College Today (November 2004), www.college.columbia.edu/cct/ nov04/features2.php; Keepnews, The View from Within, 7.
71 Quoted in Rob Tocalino, "Keepnews and Monk: A Shared Legacy," 8th Annual SF Spring Season—Official Program Book (SFJazz, 2007), 7; see also, Keepnews, The View from Within, 108.
72 Orrin Keepnews, "Thelonious Monk's Music May Be First Sign of Bebop's Legitimacy," Record Changer 7, no. 4 (April 1948), 5; reprinted in Orrin Keepnews, The View From Within, 111.
73 Keepnews, "Thelonious Monk's Music," 20.
74 Ben Burns, Executive Editor of Ebony Magazine to Lorraine Lion, March 25,1948, Blue Note Archives, Capi­tol Records.
75 Lorraine Lion, "Thelonious Monk Deserves Credit for Gifts to Jazz," Pittsburgh Courier, February 14,1948.
76 Dan Burley, "Thelonious Monk and His Bebop," Amsterdam NewsFebruary 21,1948.
77 "Creator of 'Be bop' Objects to Name and Changes in His Style," Chicago Defender, March 27,1948.
78 Ibid.
79 "The News of Radio," New York TimesFebruary 2, 1948; Sidney Lohman, "Radio Row: One Thine or Another," New York TimesFebruary 8, 1948. They performed two standards: "Just You, Just Me," and "Allthe Things You Are," and Ike Quebec's "Suburban Eyes.' The broadcast was released on Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum, The Vibes are On (Chazzer 2002).
80 The Executive Committee did not get around to approving Monk's contract with Mintons until May 6,1948. Minutes of the Executive Board, June 3, 1948, AFM Local 802, reel 5276. This may mean the gig was later than March.
81 New York Amsterdam NewsApril 24,1948.
82 Paul Bacon, "The High Priest of Be-bop: The Inimitiable Mr. Monk," Record Changer 8, no. 11 (November, 1949), 9-10.
83 Down Beat (February 25,1948), 19.
84 Metronome (April 1948), 45-46.
85 Down Beat (April 21,1948), 19.
86 Billboard (February 21,1948), 117.
87 Paul Bacon interview, July 30,2001.
88 See John Gennari, Blowin' Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its Critics (ChicagoUniversity of Chicago Press, 2006).
89 Paul Bacon," 'Round About Midnight,' 'Well, You Needn't,'" Record Changer, 1, no. 5 (May 1948), 18.
90 Cuscusna, The Complete Blue Note Recordings, 4.
91 Lorraine Gordon quoted in Course, Straight, No Chaser, 53.
92 Ibid., 53.
93 Amiri Baraka, The Autobiography of LeRoiJones/Amiri Baraka (New York: Freundlich Books, 1984), 139.
94 Both Norman Lewis and Romare Bearden have talked about how modern jazz influenced abstract expression­ism. For Lewis, 1948-1949 marked his embrace of a kind of bebop-influenced abstraction. See his "Jazz Band" (1948) and "Harlem at the Gate"(1949). See Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson, A History of African American Artists from 1792 to the Present (New York: Random House, 1993), 168-172. See also, Robin D. G. Kelley, "Breaking the Color Bind: A Decade of American Masters," catalogue essay for African American Art: 20th Century Masterworks, X (New York: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 2003).
95 Nard GriffinTo Be or Not to Bop (New York: Leo Workman, 1948), 5.
96 Ibid., 2.
97 Ray Nance quoted in Stanley Dance, The World of Duke Ellington (New York: Da Capo Press, 2000, orig., 1970), 139.
98 Shaw, 52ndStreet, 272; Shipton, Groovin’ High, 208.
99 According to Chris Sheridan, Monk had two stints at the Roost—May 4—16 (or longer) and June 15—27. SheridanBrilliant Corners, 355-56. Local 802 approved Monk's contract with the Roost on June 3. Minutes of the Executive Board, June 3, 1948, AFM Local 802, reel 5276. Ira Gitler was a frequent patron and he was there the night Wardell Gray sat in with Monk. Ira Gitler interview, August 13, 2007.
100 "Interview with John Simmons, by Patricia Willard," Tapes 1-9, NEA Oral History Project, Washington, D.C., 1977, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University, pp. 58-59.
101 "Sydenham Seeks Aid to Bar Closing," New York TimesMarch 1,1948; "Sydenham Gets $137,000," NewYork Times, March 8,1948.
102 Amsterdam NewsJune 5,1948; New York Times, June 7,1948.
103 Director of FBI to Legat, Tokyo (163-2971), cablegram, September 3,1970, Thelonious Monk FBI File.
104 The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act made possession or transfer of marijuana illegal throughout the United States, though exceptions were made for the pharmaceutical companies, who were required to pay an exorbitant excise tax. Several states had already outlawed marijuana use and possession, notably states in the Southwest where fear of the spread of marijuana was projected onto Mexican workers. Nevertheless, in New York and the rest of the country, the postwar period witnessed heightened policing of drug use and more draconian laws. African-Americans and Latinos, in general, and jazz musicians in particular, were often the target of raids, sting operations, and overall investigations. It is ironic that just four years before Monk's arrest, the LaGuardia Com­mission released a report challenging the federal bureau of narcotics' claims that marijuana is highly addictive, a source of crime and criminal activity, and is widespread. See H. Wayne Morgan, Drugs in America: A Social History, 1800-1980 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1982), 140; Curtis Marez, Drug Wars: The Political Economy of Narcotics (MinneapolisUniversity of Minnesota Press, 2004), 131; La Guardia Commission, The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York (Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Reprint Corp., 1973).
105 He was charged under Section 422 of the New York Public Health Law(1941), p. 134, and Section 1751aofthe New York Penal Law (1941), p. 153.
106 Nellie Monk interview, January 12,2002; also, same story was repeated by Marcellus Green interview, Decem­ber 31,2003.
107 Arnold Shaw, Fifty-Second Street, 180.
108 The ban was called partly in response to the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 banning closed shops, sympathy strikes, and secondary boycotts. It not only weakened the bargaining power of all organized labor, but a provision in the act outlawed the AFM's record-royalty fund. Any sort of industry paybacks to unions
that did not involve actual services was deemed illegal under Tart-Hartley. However, when the AFM's record­ing contracts expired on January 1, 1948, Petrillo announced the ban. This time the industry was in a strong position, having made and stockpiled many more records than it could release on the market at once. The ban lasted almost a full year, culminating in a small victory for the AFM. To replace the record-royalty fund, the industry agreed to establish a Music Performance Trust Fund that would finance free concerts and pay strug­gling musicians union scale.
109 This group can be heard on Milt Jackson/Sonny Stitt, In the Beginning (Galaxy XY 204).
110 "Interview with John Simmons, by Patricia Willard," Tapes 1-9, NEA Oral History Project; Johnny Simmen and Barry Kernfeld, "Simmons, John," in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed., edited by Barry Kernfeld, Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/ music/J4lOOOO (accessed February 24,2009).
111 Korall, Drummin’ Men, 59-69; Gitler, Jazz Masters of the Forties, 190.
112 All takes can be heard on The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Thelonious Monk.
113 "Interview with John Simmons, by Patricia Willard," Tapes 1-9, NEA Oral History Project, p. 60.
114 I must here acknowledge Milton Stewart, who suggests that Monk developed an "mbira" approach to the piano, in which the left and right hands play rhythmically separate melodies featuring alternating pitches in the middle and bass registers. It produces the effect of two independent instruments being played simultaneously. Milton Stewart, "Thelonious Monk: Bebop or Something Different?" Jazz Research Papers 5 (1985), 182-8^.
115 Les Tomkins interview with Thelonious Monk, 1965.
116 Richard Boyer, "Profiles: Bop," New Yorker (July 3, 1948), 26.
117 Ibid., 29.
118 Ibid., 28.
119 Ibid., 29.
120 Ibid, 31.
121 Charlotte Washington interview, April 5, 2004.
122 The Complete Dean Benedetti Recordings (Mosaic MR10-129).
123 Subpeona for Alfred W. Lion, People of the State of New York vs. Thelonious Monk, called for trial on August 31,1948, at 100 Centre Street at 10 AM, Blue Note Archives.

1 comment:

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this fascinating well-researched piece.


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