Throwback: Black History Month: Thelonious Monk

Today is February 24, 2021. It’s the 24th day of Black History Month. And as I’ve mentioned throughout this series, I’ve been featuring Black artists across a wide and eclectic array of genres and styles — with the hopes that it’ll be a bit of a primer on the Black experience and on Black music. 

Of course, I hope that these posts will serve as a reminder of these very important facts:

  • Black culture is American culture — and Black music is American music. 
  • America’s greatest and beloved contributions to the world are Black music styles — the blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop. 
  • Black art matters. 
  • Black lives matter — all of them, all of the time. 

Thelonious Monk is arguably one of the most beloved and eccentric personalities in the history of jazz. He had a unique improvisational style centered around an unorthodox piano playing style — and was known for an idiosyncratic habit during shows: while the other musicians continued playing, Monk would stop what he was doing, stand up and start dancing before returning to play. On occasion, it would look as though he were simultaneously absentminded and possessed.

Among jazz composers, Monk is the second-most-recorded after some guy named Duke Ellington and was one of five jazz musicians to ever be featured on the cover of Time Magazine. Some of his compositions are among the most beloved, jazz standards — “Ruby, My Dear” is one of my favorite Monk tunes, ever.