Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original

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Simon and Schuster, Dec 8, 2009 - Biography & Autobiography - 608 pages
3 Reviews
The first full biography of legendary jazz musician Thelonious Monk, written by a brilliant historian, with full access to the family's archives and with dozens of interviews.

Thelonious Monk is the critically acclaimed, gripping saga of an artist’s struggle to “make it” without compromising his musical vision. It is a story that, like its subject, reflects the tidal ebbs and flows of American history in the twentieth century. To his fans, he was the ultimate hipster; to his detractors, he was temperamental, eccentric, taciturn, or childlike. His angular melodies and dissonant harmonies shook the jazz world to its foundations, ushering in the birth of “bebop” and establishing Monk as one of America’s greatest com­posers. Elegantly written and rich with humor and pathos, Thelonious Monk is the definitive work on modern jazz’s most original composer.

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Thelonious Monk: His Story, His Song, His Times

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This first purely biographical treatment of the landmark jazz composer and pianist brings in a wealth of new material, much of it specifically intended to put paid to Monk's reputation as an enigmatic ... Read full review

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I thought I knew quite a bit about Thelonius and his music but after reading this book I realized that there was a lot I didn't know not only about him but about his family, friends and the musicians he worked with. Each chapter covers specific years in his life and career and is delivered in chronological order. The book details all his performances and recording dates and the author does a nice job showing how Monk rehearsed, tutored and introduced new band members to his music. One of the things unfortunately that Monk came to be know for was his perceived eccentricities and the book shows that of those things that actually occurred the source of this came mostly from his struggle with a bi-polar disorder that went undiagnosed for most of his life.
There is one aspect of the book that I think distracts from an otherwise good accounting of everything you wanted to know about Thelonius Monk and his music. The author continually tries to connect Monk’s motivations, emotions and thoughts with many of the tragic events of the 60s surrounding the civil rights movement . No doubt Monk was more than mildly troubled by the events as many of us were but the recorded quotes and answer to interview questions belies any specific concerns on his part.. In fact what comes through loud and clear is that Monk was primarily concerned with providing for his family and civil rights issues though important were not foremost in his mind.
If you want to learn about Monk and the jazz world of his time I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

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About the author (2009)

Robin D.G. Kelley is a professor of history and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California. From 2003-2006, he was the William B. Ransford Professor of Cultural and Historical Studies at Columbia Univeristy. From 1994-2003, he was a professor of history and Africana Studies at New York University as well the chairman of NYU's history department from 2002-2003.

One of the youngest tenured professors in a full academic discipline--at the age of 32--Kelley has spent most of his career exploring American and African-American history with a particular emphasis on African-American musical culture, including jazz and hip-hop.

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