Today is the 89th birthday of Thelonious Monk, my favortie jazz musician-composer. Jazz has never known quite what to do with Thelonious, who struggled in obscurity and poverty for two decades while others had hits with his songs and then suddenly–in the 60s, well after his creative powers had ebbed and as his debilitating mental illness took permanent root–became a huge international star: He is simultaneously venerated and institutionalized–his name is attached to professional songwriting contests and music programs at academies–and treated as a sideshow, notable but mostly for his freakishness–in Ken Burns’s Jazz, Branford Marsalis praised him but did so as a joke, like professing love for a “weird,” “quirky” cousin who gets included in the family because of the artistic cachet s/he brings.

Below is a clip of Thelonious, in a trio setting sometime in the late 50s, playing “Blue Monk.” I love all of the incarntions of Thelonious’s bands, but lately I find myself digging the trios the most, particularly the early Blue Note sessions from the late 40s that made up his first recordings. This video gives a glimpse of why.


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