The Story of Thelonious Monk – a jazz classic with unyielding fingers

Learn more about the life of Thelonious Monk, one of the pioneers of bebop. What is the peculiarity of his style and what role did Baroness Pannonika de Koenigswarter play in his life? About this - in our article.

Biography of a jazz pianist and composer, the founder of bebop

Thelonious Spheer Monk - mysterious and ambiguous, talented and uncompromising, brilliant jazz musician and composer XX century. He is known as one of the creators of the style bop, characterized fast pace and complex improvisations based on playing out chord sequences. The style of his work was special and recognizable literally from the very beginning of the sound of the keys.


The future musician was born October 10, 1917 in the town rocky mountlocated in the state North Carolina. For a long time there was no information about the reliable date of his birth. information, the most accurate information was established in 1968 musicologist and critic Leonard Feather in the The original birth document. IN testimonial the musician's name is listed as Thelonious Monk Jr. An interesting fact is that the name Sphere in metric missing, therefore, most likely, it was assigned by Monk independently, in memory of Sphire Battse, maternal grandfather.

Thelonious Monk sitting at the piano
Thelonious Monk sitting at the piano

When the boy turned three years, his mother Barbaradecided that her children should grow up in metropolis, and the Monk family moved to New York. They settled in a very tiny apartment on the Manhattan, which remained shelter for Thelonious throughout life. Father could not get used to the big city: soon he left family and returned back to Rocky Mount. Barbara managed to get a job in the department social assistance municipality. In addition, in order to feed children, she had to work cleaner.

At school Thelonious studied Okay, was especially successful in studying exact sciences, such as maths and physics. Already famous, he spoke outthat "only a mathematician can become a musician". His first musical experience began precisely with pipesbecause in those days piano considered a tool for girls, so I began to learn to play on it older sister Marion. Soon the children abandoned musical instruments they hate.

One of Thelonious Monk's performances
One of Thelonious Monk's performances

When Thelonious was six years, Barbara bought her son pianoand from that time on he spent tool all the time. Aged 20 years Monk started taking music lessons with a teacher from Juilliard School, one of the major institutions of higher education in America in the field of arts and culture, but in general it can be considered self-taught. A full musical education Thelonious and not receivedHowever, as he believed, he did not need it. Monk later recalled that if he hadn't musician, then it would become vagabond.

The beginning of a creative career

In music channels clubs in Harlem, Monk begins performing at the end of the 30s. Later he plays piano in a famous place Minton's Playhouseimprovising and creating own style of play in partnership with Kenny Clark. A little later to young performers joined Jazz trumpeter club frequenters Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parkerwho soon appreciated and adopted the special manner games and custom style Monka. At that time Thelonious expressed basic position boppers:

"We want to do music, which "they" won't be able to play."

Charlie Parker, colleague of Thelonious Monk, saxophonist
Saxophonist Charlie Parker, colleague of Thelonious Monk

under the expression "they" implied arrogant leaders orchestras that adopted the style of swing and had on this not bad income. In 1944 bebop peaked popularity, but Monkwithout receiving public recognition, said goodbye with the club. At the same time Thelonious together with one of the most famous tenor saxophonists Coleman Hawkins recorded his first work in the studio.

1947 radically changed the life of a musician. At the end of the summer, he concluded a five-year treaty with recording studio "Blue note". Personal life the musician is also completely has changed: after many years of acquaintance, he proposed Nellie Smith marry him. The marriage had a huge influence on the life of a musician in the future - Nellie turned out to be caring friend and faithful ally his life long. Across a few years time in the musician's family appeared first child. The boy was named in honor of father, and subsequently, like Monkdedicated his life music.

Subsequent the contract signed with a record company "Prestige Records"in which the musicians Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk created many joint masterpieces. In 1953 appeared in the family second childdaughter Barbara. Then the pianist met with a representative of an eminent British family Pannonica de Königswarterwho provided support jazz musician and later became close friend until death. Famous saxophonist Archie Shepp spoke of her as a woman, in many ways ahead of your time. inspired by love Nicky (as Monk affectionately called her) to a jazz music, Thelonious dedicated a work to her "Pannonica". Subsequently great granddaughter Pannoniki removed documentary a movie called "The Baroness of Jazz" about difficult relations modest musician and luxurious English heiress.

Thellonius Monk and Pannonica de Königswarter
Thellonius Monk and Pannonica de Königswarter

World recognition

sudden death close friend Charlie Parker returned interest listeners to bebop and had a significant impact on promotion demand for records Monk. A year later in the show "Jazz Stars" Thelonious attracted everyone interest audience of its original playing style on the instrument: he held fingers horizontally to the keyboard, and not in an arc, as required traditional school.

At the end of the year, the most recognizable pianist's studio album "Brilliant Corners"later called "classical" hard bop and critically acclaimed artistic peak Monk. Later in the quartet he plays in Five Spot Cafe, a music club that combined friendly atmosphere and progressive music in the form cutting-edge bebop. In the late 60s, as a result joint creativity with an old friend Art Blakey was created composition, which became the soundtrack to the detective film "Women Disappear".

Thelonious Monk at one of his performances
Thelonious Monk at one of his performances

By the decision of the readers of the American music magazine Down Beat in 1963 name pianist was enrolled in Jazz Hall of Fame. A year later in an American magazine Time the musician was dedicated to a separate issue with his photo on cover, the author of which was Chaliapin, the son of the world famous opera singer. However, in autumn since 1963 a tragedy occurred in the USA: he was killed John Kennedy, and a photo was published on the cover next president America Johnson Lyndon. At the same time Monk signed new withannouncement with the studio Columbia Records, but, unfortunately, his new works lost originality and individuality. exception is an album called Underground, the last of the studio.

At the beginning of 70s Monk became participant world tour called The Giants of Jazz, and at the same time in a tiny studio Black Lions he wrote down his final work. Soon the pianist stopped give concerts, last thing show took place in the summer 1976. Composer secluded in a mansion Pannoniki de Königswarter and completely withdrawn from the outside world. Thelonious Monk passed away on February 17, 1982.

Achievements and awards

Art Monk didn't get due recognition during the life of a musician. Posthumously in 1993 year he received a special award Grammy Awards for musical achievement. Almost through five years after the death of the musician with the participation of his families was founded Jazz Institute, which annually hosts the International Jazz contest, enabling famous musicians share experience with the younger generation. IN 1989 has been rented the movie entitled "Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser"dedicated personal life and creativity musical genius.

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