Thelonious Monk

By: Greg Rowland
October 10, 2013


If it wasn’t for Thelonious Monk we wouldn’t have THELONIOUS MONK (1917–82), the 20th century’s most individual jazz pianist and composer, voicing spaces that were his alone to master, embodying a style that was only ever his while composing masterpieces that invite us to squint with vain complicity at his revelations of the music that we always and never knew, inviting us to fail better with our every attempt to explore his sonic presence, and to stand in the long shadows of a music that is forever ours but irreducibly Monk’s. Beyond jazz, Monk stands as the greatest Modernist of all time. While “Thelonious Sphere Monk” feels like a self-fashioned be-bop agenda of ferocious intervallic expansiveness, it is, surprisingly, his birth name — all three words born of his parent’s respect for familial traditions. This pre-ordained, mystical name advances the true spirit of this indefatigable original performer and composer, who challenged the principles of intervallic orthodoxy while remaining deeply embedded in the traditions of stride, gospel, swing and the funk yet to come, simultaneously defamiliarising and re-entrancing the listener with a song’s shadowed and illuminated colours, suddenly revealed in a voice of solipsistic inclusiveness, a music for anyone everyone cares to step gingerly towards his impossible fusion of equivocal transformation and the articulation of an aesthetic certainty that no other artist has ever so fully expressed.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Ed Wood, Giant Haystacks.

READ MORE about members of the New God Generation (1914-23).


HiLo Heroes, Jazz, Music