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Wynton and Marcus Roberts celebrating Thelonious Monk at JALC

This November 2008, Jazz at Lincoln Center celebrates the musical genius of Thelonious Monk.
On November 15, at 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM, Wynton and friends open the Monk Festival weekend by playfully exploring his unique musical universe. He will host Jazz for Young People: Who is Monk, in Rose Theater.
On November 20-21-22, a very special concert entitled: The Music of Thelonious Monk, by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis presents big band arrangements of Monk’s idiosyncratic compositions and features one of the premiere interpreters of Monk’s music today with pianist Marcus Roberts.
Check Wynton’s beautiful duet with Marcus Roberts on Monk’s Reflections from rehearsals in Marciac 2008 video series.

Marcus Roberts remains in awe of Monk’s “absolutely unparalleled contribution to modern jazz as an accompanist, bandleader and composer,” noting that Monk “was certainly one of the major architects of bebop and so many major people talk about how he taught them—Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie—he taught everybody what the style was about.” But Marcus also reminds us that Monk preferred not to play bebop itself, but that his own music was more thematically driven. “I always think of Monk as a poet who wrote short-form pieces, but pieces infinite in scope of design and in scope of improvisational possibilities,” says Roberts.

For Roberts, Monk’s music “is one-hundred percent about American jazz,” holding the essence of the past, but also the complexities of modern styles. “That’s what I think makes him so special,” says Roberts. “His rhythms are syncopated, there’s so much blues in every melody—he had such a beautiful way of reconciling all the oppositions in our music. His music could sound childlike yet adult. It’s merging of all of the contrasts of emotions, all of the tension that we all trouble with in life: Monk puts it in such a dignified, such a noble context that it’s hard to listen to Thelonious and not feel hope.”

Monk’s roots run deep, drawing from various virtuosos. He picked up where Duke Ellington left off in extending the functionality of the piano in a jazz setting and is linked to the stride tradition of James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and Art Tatum, but Monk also carries with him the the modern bebop language, putting him in a special position in modern American music. Monk’s contemporaries, notes Roberts, were in awe of him, “and they should’ve been,” he said.

Roberts credits Wynton for his immersion in Monk and his gradual understanding of his music. Listening to Roberts’ mastery of the instrument today, it’s obvious that he took the wisdom master Monk brought to the table. “That’s the beauty of great art,” says Roberts. “Great art doesn’t limit possibilities, it expands them. Monk gave us so many things to explore that we still haven’t explored… it’s just that broad of a philosophy.”

“The biggest thing I take from Monk is the soul of his playing, the feeling of it, the way he made the piano ring different ways,” says Roberts. “I also take his use of space and acoustics. Finally, I learned his understanding of every register of the piano having its own special orchestral mood that it can produce. When you put all that together, you’ve got a whole lot to work with.”

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  1. the recording is not available for now.

    Luigi on Dec 9th, 2008 at 2:40pm

  2. Lugigi can I hear the performance of the band playing Pannonica?

    ms jackson on Dec 9th, 2008 at 2:14pm

  3. I hear Wynton and the band performed, Pannonica. Is there a recording of the performance of it I can obtain Luigi?? Im sure they probably did it in the key of “C”.

    ms jackson on Dec 9th, 2008 at 2:13pm

  4. I was there Thursday night. Quite a special evening. The music was great, although I wasn’t a big fan of Solidad O’Brians interludes, and that she mispronounced one of Monk’s tunes. But Karim Abdul Jabar was fun and the music was just amazing. I especially loved Marcus Roberts playing and the sax playing on Ugly Betty. Great show.

    Bill on Nov 23rd, 2008 at 9:24pm

  5. I really wanted to come to this event. Are there going to be any singers? I agree with Roberts 100%. I love singing Monk myself, it is such a challenge!! Expecially Pannonica. I expceially love Wynton Marslis plays monk cd. Check out my new cd ME,MARSALIS & MONK. SEE THE DOWNBEAT ISSUE FOR WYNTON AND SEE MY HOLIDAY PAC AD FOR MY CD.

    whitney marchelle on Nov 19th, 2008 at 3:44pm

  6. I wish I could attend this event.
    The music and the story of Thelonious Monk are the protagonist of the theatre production ‘Misterioso.A Journey into the Silence of Thelonious Monk’ that I am directing at the London Riverside Studios.
    The beautiful text by Stefano Benni is a celebration of Monk’s genious and music, but also a reminder of what black jazz musicians have had to cope with in the McCarthy era.
    This is an extract from my piece and I do hope we can get in touch and help Monk’s music to get the world recognition it deserves.

    Filomena Campus (London)

    McCarthy Blues
    You are asking me if I want to tell you the names of people who think like I do?
    I’m not going to tell you any name, senator McCarthy.
    Go into any library or any jazz club, there you’ll find your enemies
    Am I afraid of you, senator McCarthy?
    We are not always heroes, sometimes we are afraid
    But you are much more afraid, senator, or should I call you president?
    With your preaching tone and your well rehearsed smiles
    And the rivers of blood that flow at your feet, under your desk.
    You can’t sleep at night as you walk through your house with your gun loaded.
    While we, senator stay awake at night to listen to the golden fire of a saxophone
    Senator, sergeant, patriot, spy, executioner, president!
    Listen to the story of a black piano player, grieved and gentle.
    Listen to the story of his last silence”
    (by Stefano Benni, translated by F.Campus)

    Filomena Campus on Nov 16th, 2008 at 4:32pm