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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Marvelling at Monk's style and grace


October 10th marks yet another milestone on the time line of musical history — today is the 90th anniversary of the birth of bebop pianist Thelonious Monk. A member of my personal pantheon of jazz idols, Monk was known for his quirky humor, fondness for fun hats, and dynamic and irregular style of play.

As with most innovators, Monk's brilliance met with uneven commercial success. At first the industry was looking for more conventional keyboard work, but eventually the times caught up with his genius and it was allowed to burn brightly. Unfortunately he flamed out too soon, taking an early retirement from music and the world.

Here's a wonderful video of Monk performing Don't Blame Me live in 1966, which I found on YouTube. It's amazing to watch because of its closeups of Monk's fingers at play. Seeing them channel the musical spirits his mind is conjuring — gracefully stepping, leaping, pausing, twisting — it's easy to lapse into a meditative trance with this great player.

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