What about Monk?

Now mysteriously retired, after more than 3 decades of activity, Monk was the searchlight (beacon) for the bebop revolution. His house and piano were headquarters for the bebop revolution. His house and piano were headquarters for Bird, Diz, Bud, Klook, and all the others, including later disciples like Randy Weston, Coltrane, even myself.
   Born and raised in New York, all of Monκ’s music is about the city and its varied people and situations. The school of Ellington: Harlem, Broadway, Lucky Millinder, Cootie Williams, Coleman Hawkins, countless others, the influence of Tatum, school of Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, way back to early roots, all intact and growing with each experience.
   Small groups, big bands, dancers, singers, shows, solos, information for a developing talent. Monk has always gone his own way, and always knew what was going on.
   Some characteristics: mathematics, acoustic sensibility, the ability to see where the music is. Perfect swing, power and concentration. An unparalleled grasp of the "mise en place," and total control of the timeseat in the rhythm section space, at home within (inside) the beat.
   Thelonious had the necessary means to carve space, using certain plastic discoveries, painstakingly worked out over a long period of time, on the piano. This music was elaborated and shaped into certain working structures, so as to have something to play, something to play on. These pieces were deliberately made, so as to "trip-up" advanced players into extending their musical capabilities and venturing into new territories. Anyone who ever worked with Monk learned a great deal, and improved their musicianship, taste, and imagination.
   I saw this happen with John Coltrane, in New York (’58-59), at the Five Spot Club, in quartet with T.M. At first clumsiness, then awakening, pursuit, doubt, courage, perseverance, penetration, revelation, transcendence. The whole process gone through in 6 weeks! For me, it was unforgettable.
   Later ('60), when I worked with the quintet (Charlie Rouse, Roy Haynes, John Ore), Monk opened up new worlds to me, also on a personal, ethical and political plane. He showed me what not to do, and left the rest up to me! Years later, I began to understand. The main thing he showed me was to stick to the point, the point being, to "lift the bandstand!"

Steve Lacy
(Paris, 27 Sept. '80)


from Steve Lacy: Conversations, publisher: Duke University Press

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