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The beauty of building, dwelling and Monk: aesthetics, religion and the architectural qualities of jazz.

We don't go on stage with one person trying to put a will on the music. We prime ourselves to follow the will of the music. See, when you play a music, all you do is to prepare yourselves to accept the spirit. Like, when you practiced your instrument you don't go on the stage to play what you practiced. You just prepare yourselves to be overwhelmed by the music, to let it put you in a spiritual state. And then you express yourself without regard to where it's coming from. You just do it! (Lester Bowie, qtd. in Solothummann 52)

Miles away, on Bald Mountain, in the midst of Surrogate Acres, beneath an uninsulated roof which creaked slightly now and then under the growing snow load of a winter storm, Mr. Blandings smiled uneasily in his sleep. He was dreaming that his house was on fire. (Hodgins 237)

I know what you're going to say. The title of this sounds as pretentious as it could. We have some of the biggest words around collected here - aesthetics, beauty, religion - and two that are comparatively small (yet big enough to fill libraries): jazz and building. I'd like, however, mainly to concentrate here on a theme with little pretension - the blues in B flat - and on one of the best known of jazz standards, Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk."

Let me say first that I derived the idea of using the word building to describe some of the aesthetic problems and, as I will argue, strengths of jazz from a famous essay by Martin Heidegger (to add some more pretentiousness) called "Bauen Wohnen Denken." There he explains that the core of the German word bauen (and hence also the English to build) is a word that means 'to dwell' (140). This relation is almost all I want to take from Heidegger: To build is to dwell. The way in which we create our buildings, the way we think them beautiful, is our view on the aesthetics of our lives, is the philosophy of beauty that permeates our lives. This is Heidegger's conclusion: that what we build, how we dwell, is how we think and form a paradigm of our aesthetic views.

Most of us will generally like to assume that what we build should be a house. It will be a home to someone; we name them Jack and Jill (if I remember Jerome Kern's and Oscar Hammerstein's version of John Winthrop correctly); we place them on a hill; we give them two kids and a dog and let them live happily ever after.(2) And you know, as Hal David says, that a house is not a home when the one you love is not around.(3) This is the Euro-American aesthetic ideal. Happily ever after, to be sure, means beauty has been achieved and ideally has to remain unchanged. Beauty is that rare thing not to be touched after it has been accomplished. We leave it on the hill and visit it from time to time, carefully watchdogged, so that nobody will hurt it.

Happily ever after also means that someone's got to build your dreamhouse, and it's certainly not Mr. Blandings(4) himself: Someone's got to be your architect; someone's got to make the blueprint, the master plan to direct us on the road to the rainbow. If we take all our happiness to a building, we better be sure that the building will hold us to eternity. We better trust the architect. And, as Mr. Blandings could tell you, if you want to build a house, you have to pay a price.

This finally brings us to the music. For Western music criticism, music has long needed an architect, someone who creates the master plan to make a musical work do what it has to do - make us happy till death do us part. That is the death of the listener to be sure; a work is meant to live eternally, filled with divine grace. Hence, a central relation in Western music is that among the creator of a work, the composer, maybe the conductor, and the work itself. This work we tend to regard as a closed work, a house on a hillside that we can be happy in. The central issues of Western music criticism are this blueprint and the way it has been realized. We forever seek ways to fulfill the creator's blueprint in the most beautiful fashion. Now, let us see how well Monk designed "Blue Monk." Would anyone want to live in his building?

As I mentioned before, "Blue Monk" is one of Monk's best known compositions, and a Western critic might call it one of his most popular works. You will hear it at many bebop sessions. It is one of Monk's easier, more conventional compositions, not only because it has the traditional form of a twelve-bar blues. In my discography of Monk, I find that he did twenty recordings of the tune during his recording career, and it is obvious that he must have played it hundreds of times during his lifetime. The version I want to look at here comes from the year 1964 and was recorded in front of an audience, what they call "live," in San Francisco (Monk, "Blue"). In many ways, this is a paradigmatic jazz recording:

* It has a classic form for jazz improvisation, the twelve-bar blues in B flat.

* It has a theme composed by one of the central musicians of jazz.

* It has the uninhibited possibilities of a live recording in a club, a recording not originally intended for commercial issue, which seems to give us the chance to listen to "jazz at its source."

* It has a classic group format of tenor saxophone, piano, double bass, and drum set, setting two melody instruments (piano and tenor saxophone) against a rhythm section of piano, bass, and drums.

The recording begins with twelve bars of the theme of "Blue Monk," which Monk plays on unaccompanied piano. As usual, Monk chooses the numbers he will be playing during a set on the spot and lets his band know by playing the first offering of the theme, alone. The band members collect their memory of that particular theme and join him for two choruses. That is all the compositional effort Monk put into "Blue Monk": a twelve-bar theme that he and then his group repeats three times. Compositionally, the theme itself makes use of chromaticism and the three-part structure suggested by the traditional blues form: A four-bar phrase made up of two motives is repeated in variation (following the chord structure), and the tension created that way gets resolved, more or less, in the last four bars.

Traditionally, a Western critic would want to find in an improvisation on a theme that the composition permeates and determines the variations of. This is what would save "Blue Monk" as a compositional work, motives strong enough to determine the players' improvisations. This is what would make this particular version of "Blue Monk" better than another version where the improvisations were less affected by the composition. This is often what jazz critics look for if they want to judge the quality of a jazz composition or a jazz solo: the specific ways that a musician works with the givens of a theme, or that the theme hands specific choices to a musician.

The first soloist in our performance is the tenor saxophonist, Charlie Rouse. I want to look at two of his choruses (if you don't have the recording for comparison, I'm afraid you'll have to believe what I am saying, but I tend to think that you will find similar choruses in other live recordings by this group): The fourth and fifth of the six choruses Rouse plays here as his solo; that is, bars 73 to 94 of the whole performance. Well, actually 72, because Rouse begins his fourth chorus one bar early with an ancient, ascending blues line. He takes a short break . . . and plays another ancient blues line. Then, during the whole chorus that follows, he continues playing with these two lines: a chorus of traditional blues that has almost nothing to do with Monk's theme. The second, however, makes strong use of its central motives. It uses the chromaticism of Monk's theme and creates variations on it. As Rouse shows, it is possible for an improvisor to make or not make use of the impulses a given composition adds to the improvisation. It is possible to use the ideas of a composition in one chorus and not use them in another. But is this just possible for an improvisor who does not regard the composition highly, maybe an inadequate improvisor (as some critics have called Rouse), or someone who does not like the composer?

The next section I'd like to look at is the last bars of Rouse's improvisation and the part where Monk returns for his solo; that is, bars 104 to 112. To end his solo, Rouse finishes on the fifth (F in the key of B flat), repeats this note, descends a half-note, then plays the fifth again - all rhythmically organized, of course, but not in a spectacular way. But even Monk doesn't need the construction of his own composition here. Instead, he takes up Rouse's final motive and elaborates on it. In the course of the next chorus (bars 108 to 120) he uses the first of the traditional blues motives Rouse had introduced - one of his own trademarks, the descending whole-tone scale - and makes little reference to his own composition.

As this performance shows, the givens of a composition are just one of the options a performer uses to create a solo. He can also use tradition, personal history, the ideas of the other players, even ideas coming from the audience. The aesthetic mode Monk employs here is not the construction of a blueprint, the building of a house, but one of dialogue and presence. It is not the monologue of one composer or conductor using his musicians to realize his vision of the masterplan. Also, it's a dialogue not only of the four players, but also of their particular histories and traditions. It is also a dialogue of all of the players as a unit with their history and, finally, the African American tradition of the blues. There might be one player stronger than the others - in this case it clearly is Monk, the leader; there certainly is hierarchy - one player is the leader who pays the others and who more or less decides what music gets played - but what we definitely don't find is the one creator soaring over the music and descending to us in the few happy hours that we are presented with his house on the hill.

Sometimes we might think we should find such a person in this kind of music, and often jazz musicians might see themselves in such a position. After all, jazz doesn't live in another world where houses on hills are forbidden. There are many cases where the leader's personality is far stronger than that of his co-players (many recordings by Louis Armstrong come to mind), or where the leader is such a strong structural personality that he seems to envelop all of the music around him (like Duke Ellington or Charles Mingus or Sun Ra or Monk). But even in these cases, the basis of the music is the dialogue and the need for communication. Even if Ellington writes a quasi-European suite, where every note is composed, he wants the voices of his musicians to say what their personalities say. Even if you remember Sun Ra in front of his band holding up his arms to inspire them in an almost god-like fashion, it is yet Marshall Allen and John Gilmore and Michael Ray and all the other personalities in his orchestra that he inspired and that Sun Ra's music needs. There is a need for the lifestory of every musician in the music we call jazz.(5) Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Houston A. Baker have convincingly argued that the African American cultural tradition forbids a concept like the "master-plan" to really happen. As much as Western criticism has tried to find the idea of the one single composer and creator in the "works" of jazz, the structure of the music itself seems to work against this idea. This is what makes "form" such a "weak" point in jazz for Western critics. Coming from a tradition and aesthetic sphere that looks for single creators of unique forms, a form created in what Albert Ayler calls "Spiritual Unity" must have inherent structural deficiencies. Yet, these deficiencies can be strengths: The structural need for a jazz-base community forbids the house on a hill, but creates possibilities for more democratic dwellings.

Even the one strong creative mind has to succumb under this structural urge of the music itself. The building itself can suffer under the urge of the music. It might not be sturdy enough to sustain eternity on a windy hillside. We need a different perception of houses to appreciate the building Monk did here. Monk's might be a village of festivities open to those who help to build. This is where work has to be done: changing our perception of beauty, our aesthetic ideals, to embrace this formal and structural difference, to tune in to the vibrations "from out where others dwell."(6)

There is too much pathos in here. I don't know if any of the thoughts before had much to do with the big words I mentioned in the beginning.

Yet there's a strong possibility that Monk's village of festivities is indeed a more democratic concept than Winthrop's city upon a hill.

Another take.

Sure I'm from a musical family, like us all, my family, that's the world. And the world is mainly music, isn't it? A musical world, indeed . . . .(7)

Start out with a few images & build something. Architecture has been an obvious image for the aesthetic ideal of any of the arts. What we build artistically has to take a stand against eternity; Art passes the test of time, the ultimate aesthetic judge. Hence, if we timebound humans judge Art, we project its timelessness, the durability of its structural fabric. The European, "Blandingish" aesthetic ideal has always denied the cheap and common clapboard art and opted for the solid weather- and time-proof brick Art. This aesthetic ideal imagines responsible ownership that may find expression in everlasting Art.

Jazz sometimes has seemed to find a place in the hallowed halls of this ideal. Though it is almost by definition timebound and lives only in the present performance by its musicians, its increased possibilities for technical reproduction of the arts create an image and an ideal, timeless (though bland) brick Art. Some of the music's heroes have furthered this image by employing the architecture metaphor as an aesthetic judgment. Saxophonist and composer John Coltrane reportedly said:

Working with Monk brought me close to a musical architect of the highest order. I felt I learned from him in every way - sensually, theoretically, technically. I would talk to Monk about musical problems, and he would show me the answers by playing them on the piano. He gave me complete freedom in my playing, and no one ever did that before. (qtd. in Thomas 84)

To look/listen into Monk, the architect, we can begin with "Blue Monk,"(8) aware that this twelve-bar midget could never be considered gigantic; there might be short compositions that could reach these altitudes,(9) but "Blue Monk" certainly isn't among them. If we take "Blue Monk" as a starting point for Monk's architectural ideals, there doesn't seem much to them. The composition starts with a four-note chromatic motif that is repeated a third up. The first four-bar section is resolved by the quite traditional phrase B, whose only distinction is its descending chromatic ending, which Monk plays in a quarter-note triplet (often interpreted differently by other performers). The second four bars repeat the section in a variation that follows the chord structure (which makes use of a very traditional I-IV-I-V-I cadenza). The tension created by these somewhat stationary sections is released in an again rather traditional manner by rhythmically repeating the fifth and moving it into the lower octave. Monk ends the tune with phrase B, but replaces the "strange" quarter-note triplet with a repetition of the phrase itself.

If we come to "Blue Monk" with a less formalistic attitude, we realize different architectural qualities. One thing we notice is its so-called standard twelve-bar blues form, but that is still a formal observation. Once we hear the composition, once we move it from the pages of, say, The Real Book, and present it to our listeners' ears, the blues becomes less formal. This movement, however, might be wrong (and this is where the bluesbuilt difference might start): It might not - and if we hear a Monk realization it definitely will not - go from a page of notes to the instrument to the listener. Our realization will start with Monk playing.

Take the recording done in a Paris concert on May 23, 1965.(10) This particular quartet is Monk on piano; Charlie Rouse, tenor saxophone; Larry Gales, bass; Ben Riley, drums. The recording starts with Monk playing the twelve bars of the composition. We know there are three people on stage who don't know what is going to be played: Monk doesn't use set programs(11); he plays eight or twelve bars of the next composition of the program that develops in his mind, and his musicians follow him. There are no notes distributed, no papers to be taken up by the fellow musicians, because Monk teaches his compositions by ear.(12) There is just sound that communicates between the people gathered on stage and in the auditorium. The blueprint is Monk's twelve bars of solo piano, and the musicians' knowledge of his teachings. Is this the blueprint?

The tenor saxophone joins the piano for the interpretation of the theme, while bass and drums fall into an accompanying routine that basically stays unchanged for the next 360 bars. The bass plays quarter-notes on the beat, slightly stressing beats one and three. Sometimes, to achieve more swing, he changes a beat into an eighth-note triplet or a dotted eighth/sixteenth. Obviously, these changes are not premeditated before they are actually played. They sound not only according to the will of the player, but also according to the will of the music itself, as it is being built by these players.

The drummer plays a swing beat on the ride cymbal. I can't always hear a high hat on beats two and four, but I presume it is there. There are accents by the snare drum, often to mark the end of a chorus, and by the bass drum, which are often the rhythmically most complex of the four drum instruments mainly' used here. Drummer Ben Riley plays these accents in a modern mainstream style, much more modern than that of his predecessor in the Monk quartet, Frankie Dunlop. But both styles are possible - indeed, not to say any styles are possible - as long as they're able to speak Monk's basic language. (Imagine Ed Blackwell or Chico Hamilton or Sid Catlett.)

For their respective solos (choruses 17 to 24 for the bass solo, 25 to 29 for the drums), these instruments keep up the rhythmic continuum (and also, in the case of the bass, the harmonic continuum), but not necessarily the melodic ideas of Monk's composition. The actual beginning of Gales's solo, for example (after choruses 17 and 18, where Monk thins out his piano solo to the point that the quarter-note lines of the bass become the solo voice), bar 216, is a traditional motive(13) that melodically has absolutely nothing to do with Monk's composition. What Gales builds upon is less Monk's compositional intentions than his own ideas of the blues springing from Monk's structuring ideas, which again are developed from traditional material. The world happening here is the homeworld of the blues. None of the soloists - not Rouse, who plays a seven-chorus solo; not Gales and Riley; not even Monk himself has to use the compositional material "Blue Monk" provides. They sometimes do, they sometimes don't. It is Rouse, who on other versions makes almost no use of the compositional ideas of "Blue Monk," yet here toys with the tune's parts for most of the time of his solo. Monk, on the other hand, fills his first chorus with descending scales unrelated to the motivic material of his own composition.

The difference of the many versions of "Blue Monk" is in no way connected to the musical score. The distinctiveness is connected much more to the way Monk introduces the composition. He sets not only the tempo, but also the mood for a specific interpretation. The way he sounds is a model for the bluesworld to be built. Someone feeling another homeworld, however, might let a different mood fight against Monk's, and though it is hard for a soloist's mood to fight Monk's mood, it might even win.(14) Monk s homeworld is not a blueprint, as much as it might like to be, or as much as Monk's artistic strength might make it be. It is a home-world that talks. It relates stories and it hears stories. It is a vernacular(15) story-world that talks in sounds.

Monk, to return to Coltrane's opinion, is an architect of the highest blues-built order. He is not a writer of blueprints, but a storytelling teacher - of theory, of technique, and of the senses. He builds not by the talkthink of his own mind, but by feelplay on a home piano. What he creates is not the eternal house, but the complete freedom of a bluesbuilt compound. If you don't know much about this kind of music, you might not realize what is going on here: You could hear the music as a routine, and you could say, as many critics have done, "How boring, another 'Blue Monk.' Why doesn't he do something new?" And even if you realize that the lengths and types of solos in all these interpretations differ, you might say that it's always the same: theme, tenor solo, piano solo, bass solo, drum solo, theme. You might not realize that the real building doesn't happen from this blueprint, but in a compound of complete freedom, in the homesound of four people playing on stage before an audience. Not only are the creators aesthetically different from a masterstoryworld(16) of "Blandingish" brick, but the difference is in the vision, in the perception, in what the Greeks called aisthesis. Appreciation of Monk's architectural qualities requires more than the wish for the happily-ever-after, but less than a vision that owns the world as its own responsibility. This is no music to be owned, nor is it music for the eternal returns of a grey-flannel ideal. This is music that needs building.

It may seem ironic if the vision in this music returns to ideas of John Winthrop. This was my footnote about him: ". . . wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a by-word through the world . . . ." Winthrop's ideal is not the bland family unit in the brick castle on the hill, but an open society before God, one that lives in communication. The responsibility is not one of elite ownership, but of a vernacular story-world. It is not the master's responsibility toward his slaves, but the slave's responsibility toward a popular understanding. This may well not be what Winthrop envisioned, but it is Monk's reading of his American Dream. Monk's music does not break with any of the aesthetic ideals of old, nor does it fully form any one new "aesthetic." His music is logical: Monk's sound-thinking (definitely sound) is one of logic; it uses the bricks of Western musical language, but these bricks appear weird and out of their traditional place in the structure Monk builds.(17) This logic is one of vernacular difference, a difference that means home. Home is the bluesbuilt place that reflects the American Dream through the playful and built understanding of people. This is a specific and transcendent meaning of jazz: the homeplace of building. It is what happens in this music, on and on.

Start out with a few sounds & build something.

Maybe a little bit slow; take No. 3.

Ernest listened to the music without patting his foot. He stood calmly. Listening to the sound turning into substance. Seeing a structure being built as surely as if it were brick, glass and steel. He saw the floor and the super-structure and the places where the windows were to be, yet which Monk, the Master architect, had purposely left out so that he, Ernest Day, could put them in.

Wong! went the piano, and now the Monk himself was taking a solo. He played in the low keys, and he played things that by passed [sic] the daily bread and the constant tick of the clock. Things that took time into another quarter, where it could not continue its constant repetition of the ancient archetype of beginning, middle and end; time of all times, blood of all bloods, image of all images. The thing done once, and no other thing again to be done. To Ernest, Monk moved history forward, took it from the cold grey grip of the eternal return, the repeating of things done and said, and hence the cyclic circularity of history, and of the future of man, and the end of the bad things, and the beginning of the good things. Forward! Monk's off chorded notes said. Never to come this way again! There are still secrets to be known. New secrets, not old regurgitated ones of crosses dark with the blood of too many saviors gone wrong.

Ernest laughed at the sounds, the impossible sounds that Thelonious Monk made possible. That was it! That was his appeal, his attraction. He was free, loose, weightless, yet not in need of wings! In need of nothing but his will to be free. If - and Ernest smiled at this - if Monk could defy the form, frame and boundaries of musical construction, so could he, Ernest, defy the form, frame and constrictions of a most unmusical life.

It was indeed a party, a party of the impossible. (100-101)

This long passage comes from the novel The Myth-Maker by Frank London Brown, issued several years after his early death in 1962. Brown's strength, which this quote shows, is in writing about music - not in the romantic imagery that we got used to in music authors from Thomas Mann to Dorothy Baker, from James Baldwin to Clint Eastwood, but in a well-informed manner that knows about the reality of music, yet tells also about its more transcendental qualities. Brown was a musician, a singer who performed with Monk and read short stories to jazz, and here he also proves to be a worker of words, someone who talks about the meaning behind the music, something jazz musicians usually don't care to do. Ernest, we see, is haunted by myths, by a past that enforces itself through these myths, a past of enslavement and a past that keeps him from being free. That Monk's music breaks through this past and shows a way to freedom makes it a party. Monk in this passage is a Master architect who defies the materials of construction. This seemingly absurd undertaking makes Ernest see the world anew and free from the eternal returns of a Christian mythical world. Monk is not another savior, but his music becomes prophet of a new view of the world. This view of the world is not rational, for it is built on absurd and irrational structures. It is an emotional view that is absurdly logical.

And if this sounds weird, let's turn to the real Monk. Someone who asked him to play some of his "weird chords" was answered, "What do you mean weird? They're perfectly logical chords" (qtd. in Hentoff 188). Logic indeed, but logic seen differently - not in the Eurocentric way of Western music. As Brown writes, "Monk borrows only the logic of the classics, he supplies his own roots" ("Magnificent" 125). Monk's roots are in the African American tradition; they are African orality, which is a philosophy of dynamism and movement,(18) reflected in the Euro-American environment of the Christian way of logic and writing. Three characteristics of Monk's musical thinking specifically reflect the African American tradition:

* his way of musical humor that he contrasts with pathos, a way of laughing to keep from crying that relates to the tradition of "signifying";

* the way Monk stages himself, as the "High Priest of Bop";

* the way Monk conveys compositions to his musicians, in the time-consuming process of oral transfer.

Of these, I will only specify the second here. Monk's use of the African American religious tradition is somewhat unusual in that he doesn't clearly reflect church music in the way that Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, or John Coltrane has done this. However, he recorded a large number of themes - usually simple blues lines - that in an almost autobiographic way reflect this tradition. Often they are piano solos, but solos that are different from extremely complex sound explorations like "I Should Care" or "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You" (Complete). They are rather simple and improvisatory, more relaxed than the serious construction work going on in the others. Their titles often point to Monk's biography, for example, in "Blue Sphere," "Monk's Point," "Blue Monk," or "Five Spot Blues." If they aren't blues, they are folk songs like "That Old Man" a.k.a. "Nick Nack Paddywhack" (Monk) or even the Japanese "Ko Jo No Tsuki" (Straight). Or they may be religious hymns like "Blessed Assurance"(19) or "Abide with Me" (Complete). In these pieces Monk quotes their fundamental religious attitude, their pathos of simplicity, and puts it to new use. He uses irony to show that the aim of his music is not the praise of some God, but the praise of music itself, and the praise of all the possibilities of life it offers.

Neil Leonard in his important book Jazz: Myth and Religion says,

No man or society exists long without some form of religion to help them come to terms with the disturbing and inexplicable. Without beliefs and practices to deal with mystery and misfortune, the cosmos seems chaotic, filled with existential isolation and anxiety . . . . God may die, but religion does not; we forever seek ways to reinforce or replace old beliefs. (178)

Leonard describes how the jazz society works as a church, with the musicians as its prophets and the critics as priests. This is not as funny as it sounds in one sentence. Leonard quotes Charlie Parker as saying, "I'm a devout musician," and we certainly find this attitude in the way Monk substitutes his own music for the lost gods (46). Monk himself becomes a protagonist in the myths of his own music. Hence extra-musical things are important if one is to understand his work fully.

It is not by chance that by the time of this writing we still don't have a comprehensive biography of Monk.(20) We tend to encounter him first in anecdotes, in the myths of jazz, rather than in facts. He is the "High Priest of Bebop," which was how Blue Note records advertised Monk, who more encouraged than endured the line. He dances through his sets like a portly bear, doesn't change the attitude of his hands at the end of a set, but shuffles to the bar, orders a drink, and then relaxes (Jones 33). He hears the sound of mariachis, freezes, listens for a while, then puts his finger in the air and says, "B flat!" (Gonzales 13). Like a rock star, he comes late for club dates. His huge rings, various hats, and first-class suits are not only a stage dress but the daily illustration of his own myth.(21) In his few interviews, he gives us laconic wisdom like "It's always night, or we wouldn't need light."(22) Central to Monk's myth, however, is not the advertisement for the product Monk, but his music. The extramusical things he does prepare the stage for the music; they show the audience that something important is going to happen. If in gospel music a song is an "assertion of identity," Monk questions his own real identity, but strengthens the identity of his music (Heilbut xxviii).

Monk's myth leads religious feelings to the contents of his music. At the same time, however, Monk questions religious pathos through his sense of humor. The logical structures of his music stand against its melodic sentimentality. Monk quotes the essence of the folksong, the essence of church music and the blues, the essence even of the Tin Pan Alley songs which to our ears might seem stale, sugary, schmaltzy, which to the ears of Brown's Ernest Day might even be dangerous and an existential threat. Monk quotes it and thus talks about pathos without having to leave the world of musical logic. In a world of revalued values, Monk, in the language of revaluation, talks about values. This, Monk's "meta-pathos," is one of the many things that make him important.

If this seems like an early ending, it should, and I know what you're going to say. We should talk about this.


1. This is for the spirits of Sun Ra, Thelonious Monk, Frank London Brown, and all those I might add. Thanks to Maria Diedrich and Robert Sacre, who gave me the chance to present earlier versions of this piece. Thanks to those whose work found a way into this. Special thanks go to the Pen of Peace!

2. Jerome Kern (Music) and Oscar Hammerstein (Lyrics), "The Folks Who live on the Hill." What you might remember of Winthrop is this: ". . . wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are uppon us, soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our God in this worke wee have undertaken, and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a by-word through the world . . ." (see Winthrop 233).

3. Burt Bacharach (Music) and Hal David (Lyrics), "A House is Not a Home."

4. See Hodgins, Mr. Blandings, and also the 1948 movie, directed by H. C. Potter.

5. Pianist Ran Blake called this a need for "blood" in an interview I did with him on October 4, 1992.

6. This phrase was taken from a composition by Sun Ra (see Ra & His Arkestra, Live at Montreux [Inner City, 1039, 1976]).

7. Thelonious Monk, qtd. in Postif. My retranslation to the English.

8. The composition was first recorded in a trio version (New York, 22 Sept. 1954) and then became one of Monk's most often recorded and performed pieces.

9. Traditionally, we would think of pieces such as Austrian composer Anton Webern's "Six Bagatelles for String Quartet, Op. 9" or his "Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 10," but even shorter Monk pieces, such as "Misterioso" or "Friday the Thirteenth," might be but will not be considered here (see several great pieces by Gunther Schuller and Ran Blake for that).

10. See Thelonius Monk.

11. You realize how un-set Monk's programs are when you turn to the next track, "Four in One." In this seldom played and very hard-to-play up-tempo composition, Charlie Rouse has difficulty following Monk's solo introduction. Problems of this kind are not rare in Monk's live recordings - even Monk himself has them (listen, for example, to the "Blue Monk" recorded on August 7, 1958, with Johnny Griffin, Ahmed Abdul-Malik, and Roy Haynes on Complete Riverside).

12. At least he did this with musicians who stayed with him for a longer time.

13. Eighth: pause / eighth: b flat / eighth triplet: d flat - d - f / eighth: b flat / eighth: g / etc.

14. Witness Sonny Rollins taking over "Brilliant Corners" or Coltrane repossessing "Trinkle Tinkle," both on Monk, Complete Riverside.

15. I take my use of the word vernacular and its link to the tradition of "a slave born on his master's estate" both from Baker, Blues 2, and Murray 771-75.

16. There is not time here to go into a discussion of the African American tradition of a creative revision of the master trope in connection with the aesthetic ideals discussed above, nor is there time to discuss the relation of "master aesthetics" and the Western tradition of Enlightenment. I am not all that sure if a transition of "masterpieces" to "master's pieces" to "revised master tropes" and "signifying" and a fundamental critique of the ideals of Enlightenment through the African American cultural tradition work as smoothly for the world of the music called jazz as they seem to do for literature (see Eerube 557 and Gates 52). This discussion, however, needs to be continued.

17. This is how I read a famous Monk anecdote, told for example in Hentoff 188. Someone who asked Monk to play some of his "weird chords" was answered, "What do you mean weird? They're perfectly logical chords."

18. See Carothers 210: "Sounds are in a sense dynamic things, or at least are always indicators of dynamic things - of movements, events, activities, for which men, when largely unprotected from the hazards of life in the bush or veldt, must ever be on the alert."

19. Issued as "This Is My Story This Is My Song" on Thelonious Monk, Always Know.

20. Where are you, Peter Keepnews?

21. He advised drummer Roy Haynes to wear a certain suit: "Roy, you sure play better when you're wearing that suit. Even Sonny Rollins said so. You ought to wear that suit all the time" (see Brown, "Magnificent" 122).

22. See Hal Willner, David Amram, Peter Keepnews, Orrin Keepnews, That's the Way I Feel Now - A Tribute to Thelonious Monk, liner notes for A & M, AMLM 66600, 1984.

Works Cited

Baker, Houston, Jr. Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature: A Vernacular Theory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987.

Berube, Michael. "Hybridity in the Center: An Interview with Houston Baker, Jr." African American Review 26 (1992): 547-64.

Brown, Frank London. "The Magnificent Monk of Music." Ebony May 1959: 120-26.

-----. The Myth-Maker. Chicago: Path, 1969.

Carothers, J. C. "Culture, Psychiatry, and the Written Word." Psychiatry Nov. 1959: 295-313.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism. New York: Oxford UP, 1989.

Gonzalez, Pearl. "Monk Talk." Down Beat 28 Oct. 1971: 112-13.

Heidegger, Martin. "Bauen Wohnen Denken." Vortraege und Aufsaetze. Pfullingen: Neske, 1954. 139-56.

Heilbut, Anthony. The Gospel Sound. New York: Limelight, 1985.

Hentoff, Nat. The Jazz Life. New York: Da Capo, 1978.

Hodgins, Eric. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946.

Jones, LeRoi. Black Music. New York: Morrow, 1980.

Leonard, Neil. Jazz: Myth and Religion. New York: Oxford UP, 1987.

Murray, Albert. "The Vernacular Imperative: Duke Ellington's Place in the National Pantheon." Callaloo 14 (1991): 771-75

Postif, Francois. "Round About Sphere." DU Mar. 1994: 128-30.

Solothummann, Jurg. "Zur Asthetik der afro-amerikanischen Musik: Timbre - Gerausch - Emotion." Jazzforschung - Jazz Research 9 (1978): 149-68.

Thomas, J. C. Chasin' the Trane: The Music and Mystique of John Coltrane. New York: Doubleday, 1975.

Winthrop, John. "A Modell of Christian Charity." 1645. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 2nd ed. 2 vols. Lexington: Heath, 1994. 1: 226-34.


Ayler, Albert. Spiritual Unity. ESP, 1002, 1964.

Monk, Thelonious. Always Know. Columbia, JG 35720, 1979.

-----. "Blue Monk." Thelonious Monk - Live at the Jazz Workshop. Columbia, C2 36269, 1982.

-----. The Complete Riverside Recordings. Riverside, RCD-02202, 1986.

-----. Monk. Columbia, CL 229, 1965.

-----. Straight, No Chaser. Columbia, CL 2651, 1967.

-----. Thelonious Monk and His Quartet: Olympia - May 23, 1965. Trema, 710377/710378, 1992.

Stephan Richter earned his doctorate in the history of American culture with a thesis on the aesthetics of jazz (published in Germany by Peter Lang Verlag, 1995). He lives in Weilheim, where he works as a clarinetist and writer.
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Date:Jun 22, 1995
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