Composers Datebook®

School of Monk

Composer's Datebook - October 10, 2023


American jazz composer and pianist Thelonious Sphere Monk was born on today’s date in 1917. Largely self-taught, he began playing piano at 6. At 17, he dropped out of New York’s esteemed Stuyvesant High School for gifted students to serve as organist for a touring evangelist. In his 20s, he became the house pianist at Minton's, a Manhattan jazz nightclub.

Monk’s original compositions, marked by dissonances and angular twists of melody, became jazz standards. They also had great titles: ‘Round Midnight; Straight, No Chaser; Ruby, My Dear; and Well, You Needn’t.

Monk made the cover of Time magazine and is credited with being the second-most-recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington.

Monk's biographer Robin D.G. Kelly, who spent 14 years researching Monk’s life and music, said, “He was Janus-faced [looking backward and forward]. … Monk pulled as much from his roots, the old-style [stride] piano traditions he never left, as from the really futuristic musical territory he was the first to visit. He's always going to be associated with the founding of Bebop, with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. I don't place him on the Bebop school, though — I place him in his own school. “

Music Played in Today's Program

Thelonious Monk (1917 – 1982) Ruby, My Dear - Thelonious Monk, piano Columbia Legacy CK-63533

On This Day


  • 1813 - Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, in Le Roncole, near Parma. Probable true date of his birth, according to parish records, though Verdi celebrated it on the 9th, the date he believed correct;

  • 1903 - Russian-born American composer and songwriter Vernon Duke (Vladimir Dukelsky), in Pskov (Julian date: Sept. 27);

  • 1906 - American composer Paul Creston (Giuseppe Guttoveggio), in New York;

  • 1920 - American Jazz composer and pianist Thelonious Monk, in Rocky Mount, N.C.;


  • 1825 - Russian composer Dimitri Bortniansky, age c. 74, in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Sept. 28);


  • 1919 - R. Strauss: opera, "Die Frau ohne Schatten" (The Woman Without a Shadow) at the Vienna Staatsoper, conducted by Franz Schalk, and with vocal soloists Lotte Lehmann (Barak's wife), Maria Jeritza (The Empress), Karl Oestvig (The Emperor), Richard Mayr (Barak), and Lucie Weidt (The Nurse);

  • 1931 - Walton: oratorio, "Belshazzar's Feast," at the Leeds Festival;

  • 1935 - Gershwin: opera "Porgy and Bess" at the Alvin Theater in New York City; The opera had a trial run in Boston which opened on September 30, 1935;

  • 1938 - Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 1, in Leningrad, by the Glazunov Quartet;

  • 1948 - Bernstein: song-cycle, "La Bonne Cuisine" (Four Recipes for Voice and Piano), at Town Hall in New York City, with mezzo-soprano Marion Bell and pianist Edwin MacArthur;

  • 1968 - Berio: "Sinfonia," by New York Philharmonic and The Swingle Singers, with the composer conducting;

  • 1985 - Benjamin Lees: Symphony No. 4 ("Memorial Candles") in Dallas, with Pinchas Zukerman the soloist;


  • 1739 - Handel completes in London his Concerto Grosso in D, Op. 6, no. 5 and possibly his Concerto Grosso in F, Op. 6, no. 9 as well (Gregorian date: Oct. 21).

  • 1739 - Handel completes in London his Concerto Grosso in G, Op. 6, no. 1 (see Julian date: Sept. 29);

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®