Quirky and original are good descriptions of Thelonious Monk, who is one of the all-time greatest composers, pianist, bandleaders, and improvisers in modern music.

It wasn’t only his style of dress with his beanies, cravats, and goatee, nor his way of standing up and spinning around dancing while enjoying his band during their finer moments, but these things along with his  music makes him one of the most unique human beings that walked the planet.


Despite its seeming simplicity, Thelonious’s music is not easy to play. He had to rely on the most advanced players like Coltrane, Hawkins or  Rollins to get it right. His music is full of the unexpected: tone clusters, harmonisation using seconds, unusual intervallic arpeggios, displaced rhythmic variations, space and simplicity like no other. Besides his compositions becoming jazz standards, he was a fabulous improviser, often not given credit as one of the great jazz pianists.

Regardless of this complexity, Monk was basically a family man. He never looks quit as happy as when seen with his wife Nellie and 2 kids. He grew up in the low 60s of New York City’s upper west side and never left, living there for most of his life.

A few other interesting facts about Thelonious includes the time he was busted for drugs while siting in his car with Bud Powell. Evidently, he took the rap even though the drugs were not his. Not only did he serve a short time in jail, but they took away his cabaret card which prohibited him from performing in NYC clubs for quit some time.  

He had a very influential benefactor, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who was also a great supporter of Charlie Parker (he died in her apartment while watching a comic juggler on the Dorsey Brother TV show). The Baroness has stated many times that she quit her more traditional life after hearing Thelonious play. Monk was known to spend days in her Weehawken apartment practising piano and playing with her many cats.