Thursday, November 24, 2005:

Thelonious Monk (& Sonny Rollins & John Coltrane)

Thelonious Monk
Thought I'd post some work by Thelonious Monk, whose music I love and have so far neglected. Monk's work is alternately exuberant, catchy, chilly, moody, introspective, typically angular, sometimes difficult.... He's rumored to have been difficult and moody himself, if not mentally ill, but rather than indulging in idle speculation and "tortured genius" mythos, I'll just say that I find his work as compelling as it is rewarding.

Thelonious Monk -- Nice Work If You Can Get It (alternate take)
"Nice Work If You Can Get It" is originally a Gershwin track; Monk here takes it and uses it to stretch out a bit. Serpentine oddly accented melodies, dissonance, unexpected pauses, pounded chords: all present and accounted for. This is typical Monk, off Genius of Music, vol. 1.
[Genius of Modern Music, vol. 1]

Thelonious Monk -- Four in One
"Four in One" is off Genius of Music, vol. 2; it's a catchy track that I have more appreciation for every time I listen to it--not just hear it, but actively listen to, paying attention to all the changes. That's Sahib Shihab on sax, Milt Jackson on vibes, Al McKibbon on bass, and Art Blakey on drums, all turning in some great work: Monk, Shihab, and Jackson in particular starting melodies and passing them on beautifully, making it all look as effortless as breathing.
[Genius of Modern Music, vol. 2]

Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins -- I Want to Be Happy
On "I Want to Be Happy," Rollins' saxophone is warm and comforting over erratic piano stabs; it paints fields of grain stretching out to the horizon, a two-lane track up the side, an apple tree with low-hanging branches and roots deep enough that you can catch a nap on smooth ground. Early fall, chilly but not cold, no ants about, no flies. Perfect.
[Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins]

Thelonious Monk -- Bemsha Swing
"Bemsha Swing" is the closer to Brilliant Corners; this one has Monk on piano, Sonny Rollins on tenor sax, Clark Terry on trumpet, Paul Chambers on bass, and Max Roach on timpani. Brilliant Corners was Monk's breakthrough album, released in 1956, but I doubt that anything about Monk changed to award him sudden acceptance--if anything, I'd bet it was a change in audience expectations instead. Monk's always struck me as the kind of artist who leaped out of Zeus' head fully formed and ready to fight.
[Brilliant Corners]

Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane -- Trinkle, Tinkle
"Trinkle, Tinkle" finds Coltrane and Monk leading off phrasing things in synch, standing back to let each other take the lead, twining through the spaces and supplementing the melodies, then stepping out again in synch. Two giants, both on point. It must have been something to see them play live.

I haven't exhausted Monk's discography--far from it--he has a lot to pick through, and typically it deserves active listening.
[Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane]

...

Had a nice French-Catholic two-fer recently with Monsieur Vincent and Au Revoir Les Enfants. The Malle packed a heavier punch--so far I've seen only three of his films (this one, Damage, and Murmur of the Heart) but they've all been hefty and fascinating.

Monsieur Vincent put me in mind of The Boys of St. Vincent, which I keep meaning to see, and have been meaning to even before the Church got itself into its recent trouble. Now apparently the Pope has banned gay priests, which is about as sensible as falling down the stairs in the dark, breaking your leg, refusing to go to the hospital, developing gangrene, and banning steps. It's one approach, I guess, but another might be to light the damn stairs and to call a doctor when you've broken something. By which I mean, I don't know, maybe they could encourage their cardinals to report crimes rather than just send the perpetrators somewhere else.

Other great Catholic films I can think of off the top of my head, Andrei Rublev, A Man for All Seasons, and Dead Man Walking (at least until that ridiculous ham-handed bit at the end where they raise Poncelet up, with his arms out to his sides, to speak to the audience. That scene just needs some blinking text at the bottom reading "Inasmuch as ye have done unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done unto me," complete with a choir glissando from high C to Ab. But for the most part it's an exceptional and fascinating film). One could arguably also include The Exorcist, since the cliche is that no one ever really leaves the Church.

... I haven't yet seen Lilies of the Field or Queen Margot, though I've heard great things about them.

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Comments:
digging "bemsha swing" a lot. you forgot to mention the fact that is vital to any discussion of Monk: his middle name is Sphere.

Sean, I'm always a little surprised when I post something you haven't already heard. ^_^

If/when I post Monk again, I'll be sure to mention his middle name. :-)

How could I have forgotten Mean Streets? Catholic faith and doubt are essential to that film, and it's all-around fantastic.

That reminds me of one of my favorite headlines:
PROSTITUTES APPEAL TO POPE

other good ones:
CAUSE OF AIDS FOUND -- SCIENTISTS

LAWYERS GIVE POOR FREE LEGAL ADVICE

POLICE SEARCH FOR MISSING WITNESS TO ASSAULT

MAN FOUND BEATEN, ROBBED BY POLICE

KIDS MAKE NUTRITIOUS SNACKS

DENTIST RECEIVES PLAQUE

JUVENILE COURT TO TRY SHOOTING DEFENDANT

TRAFFIC DEAD RISE SLOWLY

SQUAD HELPS DOG BITE VICTIM

DOCTOR TESTIFIES IN HORSE SUIT

DRUNK GETS NINE MONTHS IN VIOLIN CASE

THUGS EAT, THEN ROB PROPRIETOR

CITY MAY IMPOSE MANDATORY TIME FOR PROSTITUTION

ENRAGED COW INJURES FARMER WITH AXE

GRANDMOTHER OF EIGHT MAKES HOLE IN ONE

FARMER BILL DIES IN HOUSE

DEFENDANT'S SPEECH ENDS IN LONG SENTENCE

AMERICAN SHIPS HEAD TO LIBYA

HOSPITALS SUED BY SEVEN FOOT DOCTORS

DEADLINE PASSES FOR STRIKING POLICE

KICKING BABY CONSIDERED TO BE HEALTHY

CEMETERY ALLOWS PEOPLE TO BE BURIED BY THEIR PETS

ANTIQUE STRIPPER TO DEMONSTRATE WARES AT STORE

FLAMING TOILET SEAT CAUSES EVACUATION AT HIGH SCHOOL

MINERS REFUSE TO WORK AFTER DEATH

HALF OF ALL CHILDREN TESTED SCORED BELOW AVERAGE

GENETIC ENGINEERING SPLITS SCIENTISTS

LIVING TOGETHER LINKED TO DIVORCE

MAN HELD OVER GIANT L.A. BRUSH FIRE

STOLEN PAINTING FOUND BY TREE

Thanks for introducing folks to Four in One, which really captures Monk's personality as well as his artistry.

Your list of headlines reminds me of a story that I read somewhere, but I cannot remember any particulars. Supposedly, an announcer said that Thelonious Monk was in town, to which his airheaded sidekick replied, "Who is the lonliest monk?"

Hey,

why do you call thoses films catholic? especially Au revoir les enfants?

keep on the good work!

The ridge: seems that was Tabitha Soren (also).

Tonioblog: I don't know; it took place in a Catholic boarding school. Maybe I'm associating things too freely; if I had to list great films that embodied some principle of Catholic faith, the list would be much shorter.

thanks for the monk stuff - I'd forgotten about bemsha swing which was on the first monk stuff I bought...

Probably the greatest Catholic filmmaker was Robert Bresson -- arguably the greatest filmmaker of any orientation -- was Robert Bresson. Not only when working with explicitly religious themes like Diary of a Country Priest but throughout there is a concern with grace. Au hasard Balthazar, just out in the US in dvd is amazing.

You know, Bresson is one of those names that keeps turning up over and over--just recently I saw that several of his films turned up on this list of 100 spiritually significant films. I've looked for many of these in town & can't find them; of all that he's done the only thing I've seen is Pickpocket.

This will be less of a problem once I sign up with Greencine. I'm eager to see more of his work; thanks for the reminder.

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