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Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music

This comprehensive study of the noted jazz pianist and composer is a revised edition of a book first published in Germany in 1987. It is divided into three sections: a biography of Monk (1917-1982); an examination of his pianistic and compositional style; and an exhaustive, annotated catalogue of his recordings. Monk, introverted and given to bouts of depression, had few interests other than music, and his biography does not make exciting reading. The meat of the book is in Fitterling's insightful analyses of his subject's distinctive pianistic sound, his personal style as an ensemble player and his talent as a composer. Fitterling continues his assessment of Monk's musical style in the catalogue, where he includes critical commentary for each entry. He also lists films and videos relating to Monk's life. Two appendices--a guide to the multitude of Monk recordings and a glossary of musical expressions--will be helpful to those new to Monk's work. Fitterling, who lives in Germany, is a jazz journalist as well as a jazz percussionist and vibe player. This is his first book. Photos not seen by PW.


The Thelonious Monk Reader

Thelonious Monk: Originals and Standards


Mysterious Thelonious

Vibe, rhythm, beat! There have been many tributes to the great jazz composer and performer Thelonius Monk, but none so arresting and surround-sound-appealing as this small, unassuming book. If you're looking for verbose or technical explanations of Monk's music, look elsewhere. Here, you'll find nothing but pure, punchy music. Scant words jump and dance over pages that bear greater resemblance to musical staffs than still places for text to sit idly. Chris Raschka, creator of Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, uses beautiful watercolors to splash and adorn the pages' multi-boxed backgrounds in a smooth, harmonic pattern based on the tones of the chromatic scale. A groovy piano makes the occasional appearance, along with the slouchy, jivin', slumpy, jammin' image of Monk doing what he did best. Do not read this book--instead, sing it, swing it, and sway to its infectious music.

Brilliant Corners: A Bio-Discography of Thelonious Monk

World-recognized discographer Chris Sheridan draws together the most comprehensive look at Thelonious Monk's performances and recordings. Woven through the listings of Monk's work is the story of his rise to acceptance as one of the key pianists and composers of jazz and his decline in health and popularity.






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

The composer, pianist, and headgear eccentric Thelonious Monk is one of the few musicians whose touch can be recognized from almost any three-second sample of his work. Who else could have dreamed up the majestic oddity of "Round Midnight" or "Well, You Needn't" or "Ruby, My Dear" or "Pannonica"? Who else could have duplicated Monk's distinctive attack at the keyboard, with its clenched harmonies and rock-skipping runs? At least one major biography has been in the works for the last 20 years, but now Leslie Gourse--who has also written books about Sarah Vaughan and Nat King Cole--has put together a graceful, intelligent narrative. Straight, No Chaser is notably light on musicological analysis, and the author never quite delivers on her promised revelations about Monk's final decade (during which he withdrew into both musical and verbal silence). But Gourse has done some excellent spadework, interviewing Monk's family, musical associates, and longtime manager Harry Colomby; her preliminary portrait is a fine one.




De Wilde is a well-regarded jazz pianist, so a volume by him on Thelonious Monk (191882) ought to be worth reading. This one, however, is a disappointment. Monk's career effectively spanned 25 years, during which time he was closely associated with his hometown of New York City. He was one of the seminal figures in bebop, part of the select group that jammed late nights at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem, although he didn't develop the ecstatic following of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Indeed, as de Wilde notes, Monk's major career breakthrough came when the pianist was 40. For many musicians (and even more critics), Monk's playing and writing styles, with their odd intervals and out-of-kilter rhythms, were just too weird. When he finally found an audience, those idiosyncrasies became talismans for the faithful. But with fame came withdrawal, ill health, and silence. When Monk died in 1982, it had been six years since his last public performance, and even longer since he had been in the recording studio. In the second Monk biography this season (see Leslie Gourse's Straight, No Chaser, p. 1356), de Wilde traces the musician's career trajectory, his relations with his four main record labels, and his various sidemen in a generally perfunctory manner. He has some interesting observations on the importance of a sympathetic producer, pointing to the Riverside label's Orrin Keepnews as the Platonic ideal in Monk's career. And as a musician, he does have some insights into the agonizing grind of being on the road. But the book is written in a hideously hip style that is either a Frenchman's idea of jazz argot or a translator's mistake. More seriously, there is almost nothing here about Monk's family life, either as a boy or as a husband and father. And de Wilde has little to say about the music. What he does have is a lot of half-digested and often inaccurate ideas about American racial, political, and jazz history.