Robin Kelley on Thelonious Monk

There is a wonderful new interview with Robin D.G. Kelley on  Robin, of course, is the author of the new biography, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original.  I can’t imagine a biography of a 20th century figure more difficult than Monk.  Robin had to not only unravel myths, but myths upon myths.  The level of research he conducted over fifteen years is staggering.  He reveals figures who influenced Monk that aren’t a part of the jazz annals, as far as I know.   Herman Chittison?  Alberta Simmons?  He’s done a service to the Monk legacy, for these forgotten figures, and for all of us.  But his book is no dry academic enterprise, and the emotion that comes through in this interview is moving.  There has been talk about Robin and me doing some public events together in the future and I hope we can pull that off.

Monk is my favorite American musician and along with Zoot Sims, Sonny Clark, and Hall Overton he’s one of the Jazz Loft Project musicians I’ll write more about one day.  (In 2007 in the Oxford American I wrote this piece on Monk’s return to North Carolina in 1970).  Joseph Mitchell is another of my heroes and I’m working on a piece about Monk and Mitchell together, trying to figure out if those two mid-century New York City icons from the same rural soil of North Carolina’s coastal plains ever met each other, or if their families ever cross paths, then or now (both Monk and Mitchell have relatives still living where they came from).  Monk and Mitchell have more in common than you might think, but certainly many differences, too.  Can two people come along from rural North Carolina with no college degrees and leave such a profound, original legacy on the world today?

-Sam Stephenson

p.s.  Here is a piece I wrote on Mitchell for Oxford American a couple of years ago.

1 Comment

  1. Suzanne E. Roach Said,

    March 6, 2010 @ 9:21 pm

    Hi Sam,
    I just bought an old cassette at a thrift store yesterday, Thelonious plays Duke Ellington. I have never heard of it before.
    Two of my favorites are Mcoy Tyner and flute player Jeremy Steig.
    Did you get my message about bassist Gene Perla having loft tapes too? He played with James in the Jazz Circle.
    Great job on the book. I’m so grateful James had it before he died.
    Miss him terribly but getting a lot of support from family and friends.
    love, Suzanne Roach