When I listen to Thelonious Monk, I feel his whole being, his whole life, all in the moment with him. I think that's because that's where his whole life is and that's where he lives.
I read his biography a few years back and there’s the inevitable moment at the end where I read about his death. I wept convulsively for about twenty minutes. I missed him so much. I wished I could have known him. I guess I felt like I already did and what I valued about him was his stark originality and individuality. I love his simple quote
“A genius is the one most like himself.” - Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk has been the most influential musician on my song writing, singing and my entire approach to music. I sound nothing like him though. I didn’t learn to play music from him either. I learned who to be as a musician from him. All the fancy notes in the world are pointless without a deep emotional connection to the music and the present emotion. We don’t need more notes or more technology to be better musicians. He says it like this:
“It can't be any new note. When you look at the keyboard, all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean!” - Thelonious Monk
His famous notes below (transcribed by Steven Lacy in 1960) have very little to do with the content of music, but more about the context of music. All the things that must be in place for the music to connect.
The way I think about this is that the notes, the lyrics, the melody, the music is a by product of getting everything else right. When you mix the right ingredients, you get the right cake. A tasty thing that everyone can share in.
If you love Thelonious, let me know in the comments below. If you haven’t heard him much or lately start here. Tell me, which one of his tips resonates with you the most.
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Full story of Thelonious' list can be found here.