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.
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.
Monk died Feb. 17, 1982, but his recordings and performances are as cool as ever.
Originally published February 2012