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Live in rotterdam 1967

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The first steps of a monument

Thelonious Monk was born in 1917 in North Carolina. At the age of 4, Thelonious moved to New York with his parents, where he spent the next 50 years of his life. He began studying classical piano at the age of 11, after showing some aptitude for the instrument. Two years later, Monk won the Apollo Theater's amateur competition so many times that the management forbade him to compete again.


Thelonious Monk with his piano

A unique career for a unique jazz

The year 1941 is a sign of a beginning for Thelonious Monk, indeed, he starts to work at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem, it is there that he will join an orchestra and contribute to develop a school of jazz known as bebop. With future greats such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, he began to explore the fast, percussive but often improvised styles that would later become a hallmark of modern jazz. Monk's playing style was a unique jazz style that embraced percussive playing, unusual repetitions and dissonant sounds. Although he was not yet popular with the general public, his peers and many critics already held him in high esteem in view of his various recordings for Blue Note between 1947 and 1952. It is during this same year that Thelonious will sign with a label called Prestige Records, this collaboration will have given what is considered as his best piano solo: "Bag's Groove" with Miles Davis.

Despite his popularity in the scene, Thelonious Monk was ignored by jazz fans, and his label sold his contract to another called Riverside Records, where he attempted two first recordings more accessible to the general public. These efforts were not well received by the critics. Monk did not fail to turn the page by releasing his first masterpiece called Brilliant Corners. An innovative, demanding, technical and very complex sound, Monk was adored and received all the praise he deserved. In 1957, the Thelonious Monk Quartet performed in New York and ended up having great success. These successes allowed them to cross the United States and to sign Monk to a contract with Columbia Records. In 1964, Monk became one of four jazzmen featured on the cover of Time Magazine.


Thelonious Monk on piano

The beginning of the end

The years that followed included many foreign tours and by the early 1970s Monk was ready to retire, he would continue to make occasional appearances but spent his final years living in isolation. After a bitter struggle, Thelonious Monk died in 1982 after a stroke. He was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the National Recording Registry and even featured on a U.S. postage stamp.

He is considered one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time and one of the first creators of modern jazz but also of bebop. His music was stripped down and angular, with a light and playful touch.