The American jazz composer and pianist Thelonious Sphere Monk was born on today’s date in 1917. Largely self-taught, he began playing piano at age 6. At 17, Monk 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 backwards and forwards] … 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. “
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