Thelonious Monk: High Priest of Jazz

On what would have been his 100th birthday, we share our 1964 article about the unconventional and brilliant jazz musician.

Thelonius Monk playing the piano

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Thelonious Monk playing a piano
Thelonious Monk (Wikimedia Commons)


On what would have been his 100th birthday, we remember the unconventional and brilliant jazz musician Thelonious Monk.

In this April 11, 1964, profile of Monk for The Saturday Evening Post, Lewis Lapham writes: “Monk may be the dominant jazz musician of his time. His conception of rhythm and harmony has influenced the playing of such dissimilar musicians as Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. … His use of dissonance is analyzed in composition courses at the Juilliard School of Music. Recently published articles assign him a niche in the development of jazz comparable to those of Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.”



Lapham portrayed Monk as a modest but self-possessed man, often quiet but refusing to be intimidated: “The only cats worth anything are the cats who take chances,” he said. “Sometimes I play things I never heard myself.”

Monk died in 1982, but his innovative spirit lives on at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, which encourages music appreciation in children and offers promising young jazz musicians training from jazz masters.


Click to read “Monk: High Priest of Jazz” by Lewis H. Lapham, from the April 11, 1964, issue of the Post.

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