Saturday, April 12, 2014

Monk Would Talk to Me, I Bet Ya

Playing right now: Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4 - New York Concerts
(This thing is going to blow a lot of minds.)

The CD version of the newly released Thelonious Monk Paris 1969 album includes a DVD of the entire performance, along with an interview filmed on that same tour. Anyone who knows anything about Monk knows that the pianist was a man of few very succinct words. The thought of hearing him speak is cool, but one can't exactly expect enlightenment from it.

After watching the interview, I'm tempted to say that it might not simply be the case that Monk was an aloof guy. It could be that people just approached him the same way, like he really was a freak who played freaky music. And they only threw very general, vague questions at him, which left him to try and make the best of a lame situation in hopes of getting it over with soon. The guy interviewing him in the segment, Jacques B. Hess, seems to like his music. He gets very effusive about "Round Midnight" (which, of course, he calls "Round About Midnight") and "Crepuscule With Nellie," saying that they're the work of a genius. But he basically asks Monk to respond to that claim. What kind of question is that?

Hess is French and speaks to the camera in French, switching to English to talk to Monk. No less than three times during the interview, he tells that camera, "Monk does not like to talk very much," which comes across as fairly patronizing. When Monk finally does agree that his work is genius, he seems to be doing it to placate Hess, who takes it further by saying basically, "And there you have it. Monk is a genius."

Orrin Keepnews once said that when he first met Monk, the pianist remembered a review Keepnews had written of one his early Blue Note 78s. The review seemed to grasp, or attempted to grasp, what Monk was trying to do on the record, rather than saying, "Wooooooooah, what's going on HERE?!" Because of that, Monk was a little more friendly and conversational to Keepnews because at the time, (long before they worked together at Riverside) no one was giving Monk any credit for what he did. I can't understand why people would approach an interview subject that way that treated them like a circus freak. Sure, you don't want to take their work as golden but don't come in with skepticism on your mind.

And for pete's sake, don't ask yes-or-no questions.

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