Jazz musicians are the musicians that are revered through generations, even by people who were never born in the same generation. Thelonious Monk is such an example of a musician who was brilliant in every single aspect of his work; Monk was primarily known as a jazz pianist as well as composer, and apart from that, he was known for his distinctive style of improvising.
Throughout his entire career Monk has made some amazing contributions to Jazz as a genre with hits including Round Midnight, Blue Monk, Ruby, My Dear, In Walked Bud, and a lot more. Not many people know this but Thelonious Monk happens to be the second most recorded jazz composer, with the first one being Duke Ellington; this only becomes more remarkable after we know the fact that Ellington had composed over a thousand pieces while Monk only wrote around 70.
Thelonious Monk was also known for his unique look which comprised of suits, sunglasses, and hats. He possessed a peculiar habit during performances which involved Monk stopping, standing up, dancing for a moment, and then returning back to his performance. This was seen as outlandish because other musicians would just continue playing their music.
Most of Monk’s life was associate with music one way or another; he toured with an evangelist as a church organ, later he started working as a jazz musician, and later started playing piano at Minton’s Playhouse, which was a nightclub in Manhattan. It is said that most of Monk’s playing style had developed during his tenure at the Minton’s Playhouse, because used to participate in afterhours cutting contests along with several other jazz soloists of the time.
The time spent playing at Minton’s Playhouse ended up being a crucial factor in the creation of Bebop which is basically a form of jazz that focuses on fast tempos as well as other factors included. In 1944, Monk recorded his first composition with Coleman Hawkins Quartet. Hawkins was one of the first established Jazz musicians who promoted Thelonious Monk; in return Monk invited Hawkins and asked him to join him on a session in 1957 which he conducted alongside John Coltrane.
After enjoying a lucrative career for about 30 years or so, Monk disappeared from the jazz music scene in the mid-70s, only to make a few appearances in the final decade of his life. Monk’s last studio recording too place in November, 1971, and he did this for the English Black Lion label. However, sadly after a while, Monk’s health started to decline to a point where he would not recognize people around him, in a documentary, his son goes on record to say that Monk was even hospitalized on several occasions. There have been reports of mental illness as well, but nothing was ever specified.
On February 17th, 1982, Thelonious Monk suffered from a stroke and died. In 1993 he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2006, he was awarded with a special Pulitzer Prize.