Thelonious Monk Archive


Thelonious Monk: Born: October 10

Happy Birthday, Thelonious! I wouldn’t have known had I not become a fan of radio station WKCR, out of Columbia University, a station I maybe first heard at Sharifa’s place the other day as we talked about her almost here baby and mid-wifery over mint tea, it’s always so odd to talk about the future when it’s staring you in the face, a thing men cannot share since we don’t house the future, only move towards it. In any case, it was nice to see and hear Sharifa, her speech is Texas, it just lumbers along with a few jokes, and she asked me if the gongs and cymbals I heard in some unidentifiable music playing on the radio bothered me, and I said, no, no, I liked it, it actually added (I did not say) to the baby expectation and joy, wondering which bed she’d have her baby in, and then her baby himself, laying around and then toddling around and then running around, the baby as a world of cymbals and gongs in one presence! But for now the gongs were on the radio, specifically WKCR, and it’s the station I tune into during the day while I’m working now, it’s like having Sharifa near me, Sharifa and her little baby crashing cymbals of gurgling and laughter in the other room as I type, hoping the writing will get better but wanting them to stay just the same, perfect. In any case, there was Thelonious, how old would he have been had he not died in 1987, he wasn’t even seventy when he died, and I hope Sharifa and her baby live forever in a world of Elizabeth Bishop rainbow, rainbow, rainbow! In the old days the late Veronica Geng used to come to my little apartment for lunch, Ian Frazier introduced us, she was interested in writing about Ron Vawter, now also dead, and once she saw my blue box of Thelonious Blue Note recordings and Veronica said: He’s the greatest artist of the twentieth century! And Darryl was here that afternoon, I made a curry but burned it, I admired Veronica so, that afternoon we walked down to City Hall, and she talked about the writing she wanted to do, the writing I wanted to do, and we walked–where? It was all rainbow that afternoon, that little, funny woman by my side with that laugh–it went up! like a rainbow–and it’s so hard to imagine that I have that effect on the kids I meet now but I do and sometimes they’re shy of my effect on them and I don’t hear from them for a while but I don’t think I did that with Veronica, learning from people has always been the healthiest part of myself, I’m greedy about that, Valda was, too, people were our university. I wrote to Veronica later in the summer when she was in her little house…upstate? She wrote to me about blueberries, and the preserves she was making and would bring me back but then things got sad, she didn’t like me writing for someone she felt injured by, she never gave me the jam, and then she was sick and died, but nothing can take away the sound of her laughter going up! and Darryl not understanding why she had to leave at all. Happy Birthday, Thelonious. It’s hard to say how much more music you would have produced had you lived, or if you would have loved more people had you lived, but just know the Thank you! is always there, and that it’s filled with rainbow! rainbow! rainbow! And guess what, Thelonious? Just as I was laying down with a pad and pencil to start continue the work of the day, I received a text from Sharifa. It read, in part: “Emanuel…is BORN!” And on your day. Sometimes things are no less than right, and there are rainbows, and as Tennessee’s Blanche had it: “Sometimes there is God so quickly.” Time to watch over us, Thelonious, as we endeavor to make some music out of that.


Dig It, You Dig?

Words of advice from the brave and singular Thelonious Monk, dead thirty years this month. Words that go beyond orchestration, an architecture for life. Art: just do it, just do it, just do it. And then watch how art does you. Why treat it as separate from life? What follows is a transcription of Steve Lacy’s notes of TM speaking. Happy Monk Days to us all. And bless Steve Lacy for the card. Oh, dear Thelonious, my beard is for you. You always make me feel like a hotel room, waiting for you to come home.


Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.

Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head, when you play.

Stop playing all those weird notes (that bullshit), play the melody!

Make the drummer sound good.

Discrimination is important.

You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?


Always know….(MONK)

It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn’t need the lights.

Let’s lift the band stand!!

I want to avoid the hecklers.

Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that. Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you!

The inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good.

Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important that what you do.

A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.

Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, and when it comes, he’s out of shape and can’t make it.

When you’re swinging, swing some more.

(What should we wear tonight? Sharp as possible!)

Always leave them wanting more.

Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene. These pieces were written so as to have something to play and get cats interested enough to come to rehearsal.

You’ve got it! If you don’t want to play, tell a joke or dance, but in any case, you got it! (To a drummer who didn’t want to solo)

Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself.

They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along and spoil it.