Saturday, October 9, 2010

Saturday morning tunes: The drunken kung fu jazz master

I came to Thelonious Monk late in the game, comparatively speaking. I love his stuff in part because of his great gift for tunes you can whistle. That's probably why, according to Wikipedia:

Monk is the second most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, which is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed over 1,000 songs while Monk wrote about 70.

But the thing that kills me about Monk is his piano style. He was to the jazz piano what the drunken master is to kung fu: You think he's syncopating, but he's not; he's staggering all over the time signature. You think those are grace notes, but they're not; he's landing somewhere in the cracks between the keys on the piano. There's a crazy but precise fluidity to it that takes a lot of work and skill to make happen. And yet he's unstoppable. If you sat me down at a piano and put a gun to my head, I doubt if I could reproduce the first twenty-four bars of "Well You Needn't" in true Monk style to save my soul. But it's an amazing thing to listen to.

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