October 12, 2017

Thelonious Monk at 100

At Thelonious Monk’s hundredth birthday, it’s our ears that have changed, not his sound.  Instead of odd angles and eccentricity we hear orchids in music, various and beautiful.  The truth of the man’s life is ...

At Thelonious Monk’s hundredth birthday, it’s our ears that have changed, not his sound.  Instead of odd angles and eccentricity we hear orchids in music, various and beautiful.  The truth of the man’s life is clearer, too: drawn back from the ragged edge to the creative center of classically American music.  

The quirky story of Thelonious Sphere Monk made a new sort of sense in Robin Kelley’ grand biography in 2009.  Monk was one of the be-bop revolutionaries, it’s always said, uptown in Manhattan in 1941, but Robin Kelley revealed him as a child of Fats Waller stride piano and all the music of 1930s Harlem and well beyond it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=yHpB4lkgeN0

He mumbled at the piano and danced around it. He showed up late sometimes, sometimes disappeared, and did time for small drug offenses. But inside Robin Kelley’s biography is an unshakably original, purposeful musician, ever a generous genius, an attentive father, son, and husband, in triumph and in trouble.

What Monk did was take the oldest, rooted tradition of the piano, in Harlem, New York, all over the country. And then he combined it with a future we have yet to achieve. It’s collapsing space and time. And his whole approach to the piano is one that brings past and present and future together in one. And he had never ever left his roots as a stride pianist — all the way to the very last tune he ever played.

Monk wrote close to a hundred songs still being interpreted and reinvented. He was musician beyond category, or genre, or period, in Kelly’s persuasive account. It’s fun to see Monk now an African-American Emersonian. His line, for instance, that “the piano ain’t got no wrong notes,” resonates with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s war on conformity and consistency. “To believe your own sound,” paraphrasing Emerson’s line in Self Reliance, “that is genius.”  

Robin D. G. Kelley in conversation with Chris Lydon, December 18, 2009

This Week's Show • June 19, 2014

Vijay Iyer: Jazz in the 21st Century

Where is jazz headed in a new century? With the pianist Vijay Iyer as guide, newly tenured as a professor at Harvard, it tends toward the experimental, with drummers, young musicians and slam poets. If it doesn’t always swing, it’s surprising and takes you in new directions. Will jazz be forgotten or just re-shaped by new, emerging artists like Vijay Iyer?
Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music & Beauty, Part I
Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music & Beauty, Part II
Robin Kelley's Transcendental Thelonious Monk
Miles Davis' Kind of Blue

Where is jazz headed in a new century? With the pianist Vijay Iyer as guide, newly tenured as a professor at Harvard, it tends toward the experimental, with drummers, young musicians and slam poets. If it doesn’t always swing, it’s surprising and takes you in new directions. Will jazz be forgotten or just re-shaped by new, emerging artists like Vijay Iyer?

Here’s a short sample of the show. Vijay Iyer brings you inside the head of a jazz improviser and describes the expressive give and take conversation musicians are having with each other. Click on the black bar at the top of the page to listen to the whole show.



As you can see by this infographic from Google, jazz audiences have been shrinking since the 1960s, supplanted by rock mostly, so the question is: will jazz be forgotten or just reshaped by new, emerging artists like Vijay Iyer?

fina copy

 

And here’s the playlist from the show:

Thank you to Michael Lutch for the photos above.