Jazz pianist Thelonious Monk is still uber-cool, even 31 years after his death. And he passed that cool along to his son, T.S. Monk, who carries on his father’s legendary name as a jazz drummer and founder of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. As the son opens a new show in Miami, "Monk & Coltrane," we remember the cool that the father passed down. Written by Linnea Crowther. Originally published February 2012.
Thelonious Monk was no ordinary jazzman. A few notable qualities set him apart from the rest – for one, his style. Rings on his fingers, hat and sunglasses on his head, dressed in a dapper suit, he epitomized cool jazz style.
Thelonious Monk, 1947 (Wikimedia Commons/William P. Gottleib)
And it wasn't just his look that was cool. Everything about Monk's performances was jaw-droppingly hip. He pounded heavily at the piano's keys like a little kid who's never had a lesson – but Monk's heavy-handed style brought beauty from the instrument, not dissonance. Critics called him "the elephant on the keyboard," but jazz fans loved his spiky, percussive sounds.
And when he was done crashing his way through another hot solo, Monk didn't fade into the background while his bandmates took their turns. Instead, he would jump up from his piano bench and look on, shuffling his feet to the beat. His enthusiasm made the music all the more infectious.
Thelonious Monk died 31 years ago today, but his recordings and performances are as cool as ever.