Medicine And Multimedia

Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music; Straight, No Chaser. The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 24 October 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1162
  1. Sean A Spence, locum consultant psychiatrist
  1. Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London

    Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music

    Thomas Fitterling

    Berkeley Hills Books, £15.95, pp 238

    ISBN 0 9653774 1 5

    Straight, No Chaser. The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk

    Leslie Gourse

    Books with Attitude, £16.99, pp 340

    ISBN 1 901526 08 9

    Rating: Embedded ImageEmbedded ImageEmbedded Image,Embedded ImageEmbedded ImageEmbedded Image

       Thelonious Monk's music is instantly recognisable, sounding as if the modernist Schoenberg had inherited the jazz tradition of Fats Waller: angular music, jangling with discordant note clusters, set over jerking rhythms which nevertheless seem to “swing.” It is redolent of his beloved New York and expressive of a singular world view. But in the emerging literature that addresses his troubled life it is his state of mind which recurrently punctuates the rhythms of his musical career. In each of these works the authors eventually ask “What went wrong with Monk?”

    Thelonious “Sphere” Monk was born in North Carolina in 1917. His family lived on the “coloured side” of town. They moved to New York when Thelonious was 6 years old, his mother becoming the sole breadwinner when his father returned to North Carolina. From then until the 1980s, Monk would live in the same small apartment; first with his mother and siblings, later joined by his wife and then by their own children. At 14, he was contributing to the family's income by playing at “rent parties” (where neighbours subsidised their impoverished hosts). At 16, he became a …

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