Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Charlotte Zwerin's 'Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser' (1988)

Sometimes the name and the named match perfectly. Such is the case with North Carolina-born jazz pianist-composer Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-1982). 

To gain insight into Monk's world, Charlotte Zwerin's Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988) is highly valuable as a record of the artist, letting us see him perform, stand still while walking in circles, mutter and sporadically interact with others in what appears to be quite an otherworldly manner. His original compositions are part of the jazz canon, complex and powerful -- "Straight, No Chaser," "Blue Monk," "Bemsha Swing," "Epistrophy," "Ruby, My Dear," "In Walked Bud" and "'Round Midnight" -- for example.   
Detroiter Charlotte Zwerin (1931-2004. Cinema verité director who worked with the Maysles' brothers on Gimme Shelter and made several other excellent documentaries) utilizes priceless archival footage in a highly effective manner. 

Zwerin, Bruce Ricker and Clint Eastwood co-produced Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (Eastwood especially helped with the financing)

Monk's son T.S. (also a jazz musician) provides insight into his father's unsettled mental states (sometimes catatonic, in fugue states of sorts, as if checked out of Earth from time to time), and we gain an appreciation for Monk's wife and sort of chief of staff Nellie as well as his "special lady friend" and patron, Pannonica "Nica" de Koenigswarter, both of whom informally shared responsibilities for keeping Monk together. Finally, let's not fail to mention his withdrawal from the music scene into quietude during the last decade of his life, combined with his affinity for cats and a silent piano. From Koenigswarter's pad in Weehawken, New Jersey, Thelonious Sphere Monk could contemplatively gaze at the Manhattan skyline to his heart's content, never having to perform on stage again.  

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune. 


Charles Gramlich said...

Interesting character

Luma Rosa said...

Hi, Erik!
I'll look at Spotify to listen. I know this figure of American music scene. But I have heard some older...
Happy 2015!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I didn't realize that was his real name! I just assumed that a name that cool had to be given much later in life.