"The Loneliest Monk"
by Barry Farrell
Time Magazine, February 28, 1964
Everyone who came to meet his plane wore a fur hat, and
the sight was too much for him to bear, 'Man, we got to have those!' he told his sidemen, and for fear that the hat stores
would be closed before they could get to downtown Helsinki, they fled from the welcome-to-Finland ceremonies as fast as decency
permitted. And sure enough, when Thelonious Monk shambled out on the stage of the Kulituuritalo that night to the spirited
applause of 2,500 young Finns, there on his head was a splendid creation in fake lamb's wool.
At every turn of his long life in jazz, Monk's hats have
described him almost as well as the name his parents had the crystal vision to invent for him 43 years ago - Thelonious Sphere
Monk. It sounds like an alchemist's formula or a yoga ritual, but during the many years when the owner merely strayed through
life (absurd beneath a baseball cap), it was the perfect name for the legends dreamed up to account for his sad silence. "Thelonious
Monk? He's a recluse, man!"
In the mid-'40's, when Monk's reputation at last
took hold in the jazz underground, his name and his mystic utterances ("It's always night or we wouldn't need light") made
him seem like the ideal Dharma Bum to an audience of hipsters; anyone who wears a Chinese coolie hat and has a name like that
must be cool.
Now Monk has arrived at the summit of serious recognition
he deserved all along, and his name is spoken with the quiet reverence that jazz itself has come to demand. His music is discussed
in composition courses at Juilliard, sophisticates find in it affinities with Webern, and French Critic Andre Hodeir hails
him as the first jazzman to have "a feeling for specifically modern aesthetic values."
The complexity jazz has lately acquired has always been
present in Monk's music, and there is hardly a jazz musician playing who is not in some way indebted to him. On his tours
last year he bought a silk skullcap in Tokyo and a proper chapeau at Christian Dior's in Paris. When he comes home to New
York next month with his Finnish lid, he will say with inner glee, "Yeah - I got it in Helsinki."
The spectacle of Monk at large in Europe last week was
cheerful evidence, too, of how far jazz has come from its Deep South beginnings. In Amsterdam, Monk and his men were greeted
by a sellout crowd of 2,000 in the Concertgebouw, and their Dusseldorf audience was so responsive that Monk gave the Germans
his highest blessing, "These cats are with it!" The Swedes were even more hip: Monk played to a Stockholm audience that applauded
some of his compositions on the first few bars, as if he were Frank Sinatra singing Night and Day, and Swedish television
broadcast the whole concert live.
Such European enthusiasm for a breed of cat many Americans
still consider weird if not downright wicked, may seem something of a puzzle. But to many jazzmen touring Europe, it is one
more proof that the limits of the art at home are more sociological than aesthetic.
Though Monk's career has been painful and often thankless,
it has also been a tortoise-and-hare race with flashier, more ingratiating men-- many of whom got lost in narcotic fogs, died
early in squalor and disgrace or abandoned their promise, to fall silent on their horns. Monk goes on. It is his high philosophy
to be different, and having steadily ignored all advice and all the fads and vogues of jazz that made lesser musicians grow
rich around him, he now reaps the rewards of his conviction gladly but without surprise.
He has a dignified, three-album-a-year contract with his
present tour of Europe is almost a sellout in 20 cities from Helsinki to Milan. In his first fat year, Monk earned $50,000,
and on checks as well as autograph books he signs his grand name grandly, like a man drawing a bird.
Monk's lifework of 57 compositions is a diabolical and
witty self-portrait, a string of stark snapshots of his life in New York. Changing meters, unique harmonics and oddly voiced
chords create the effect of a desperate conversation in some other language, a fit of drunken laughter, a shout from a park
His melodies make mocking twins of naivete and cynicism,
of ridicule and fond memory, Ruby, My Dear and Nutty are likeably simple, Off Minor and Trinkle Tinkle are so complex that
among pianists only Monk and his protege, Bud Powell, have been able to improvise freely upon them.
Monk's inimitable piano style is such an integral part
of the music he has written that few jazz pianists have had much luck with even the Monk tunes that have become part of the
standard jazz repertory. Monk himself plays with deliberate incaution, attacking the piano as if it were a carillon's keyboard
or a finely tuned set of 88 drums. The array of sounds he divines from his Baldwin grand are beyond the reach of academic
pianists, he caresses a note with the tremble of a bejeweled finger, then stomps it into its grave with a crash of elbow and
forearm aimed with astonishing accuracy at a chromatic tone cluster an octave long.
Monk's best showcase has always been a café on Manhattan's
Lower East Side called the Five Spot, where he ended a highly successful seven month engagement in January.
The ambiance of the Five Spot is perfect for Monk's mood - dark: a little dank, smoke soaked and blue. Night after night,
Monk would play his compositions - the same tunes over and over again, with what appeared to be continuing fascination with
all that they have to say.
Then he would rise from the piano to perform his Monkish
dance. It is always the same. His feet stir in a soft shuffle, spinning him slowly in small circles. His head rolls back until
hat brim meets collar, while with both hands he twists his goatee into a sharp black scabbard.
His eyes are hooded with an abstract sleepiness, his lips
are pursed in a meditative O. His cultists may crowd the room, but when he moves among them, no one risks speaking: he is
absorbed in a fragile trance, and his three sidemen play on while he dances alone in the darkness. At the last cry of the
saxophone, he dashes to the piano and his hands strike the keys in a cat's pounce. From the first startled chord, his music
has the urgency of fire bells.
At the piano, Monk is clearly tending to business, but
once away from it, people begin to wonder. Aside from his hat and the incessant shuffle of his feet, he looks like a perfectly
normal neurotic. "Solid!" and "All reet!" are about all he will say in the gravelly sigh that serves as his voice, but his
friends attribute great spiritual strength to him. Aware of his power over people, Monk is enormously selfish in the use of
it. Passive, poutish moods sweep over him as he shuffles about, looking away, a member of the race of strangers.
Every day is a brand-new pharmaceutical event for Monk:
alcohol, Dexedrine, sleeping potions, whatever is at hand, charge through his bloodstream in baffling combinations. Predictably,
Monk is highly unpredictable. When gay, he is gentle and blithe to such a degree that he takes to dancing on the sidewalks,
buying extravagant gifts for anyone who comes to mind, playing his heart out. One day last fall he swept into his brother's
apartment to dance before a full-length mirror so he could admire his collard-leaf boutonniere; he left without a word. "Hey!"
he will call out, "Butterflies faster than birds? Must be, 'cause with all the birds on the scene up in my neighborhood, there's
this butterfly, and he flies any way he wanna. Yeah. Black and yellow butterfly. Pretty butterfly." At such times, he seems
a very happy man.
At other times he appears merely mad. He has periods of
acute disconnection in which he falls totally mute. He stays up for days on end, prowling around desperately in his rooms,
troubling his friends, playing the piano as if jazz were a wearying curse. In Boston Monk once wandered around the airport
until the police picked him up and took him to Grafton State Hospital for a week's observation. He was quickly released without
strings, and though the experience persuaded him never to go out on the road alone again, he now tells it as a certification
of his sanity. "I can't be crazy," he says with conviction. "'cause they had me in one of those places and they let me go."
Much of the confusion about the state of Monk's mind is
simply the effect of Monkish humor. He has a great reputation in the jazz world as a master of the "put-on," a mildly cruel
art invented by hipsters as a means of toying with squares. Monk is proud of his skill. "When anybody says something that's
a drag," he says, "I just say something that's a bigger drag. Ain't nobody can beat me at it either. I've had plenty of practice."
Lately, though, Monk has been more mannerly and conventional. He says he hates the "mad genius" legend he has lived with for
20 years - though he's beginning to wonder politely about the "genius" part.
Monk's speculations were greatly encouraged in December,
when he crowned all his recent achievements with a significant trip uptown from the Five Spot to Philharmonic Hall. There
he presided over a concert by a special ten-piece ensemble and his own quartet.
The music was mainly Monk's own - nine compositions from
the early I Mean You to Oska T which he wrote last summer under a title that is his own transcription of an Englishman's saying
"Ask for T", ("And the T," says Thelonious, "is me.") The concert was the most successful jazz event of the season, and Monk
greeted his triumph with grace and style. At the piano he turned to like a blacksmith at a cranky forge - foot flapping madly,
a moan of exertion fleeing his lips. The music he made suggested that the better he is received by his audience the better
Happenings in Harlem.
For Monk, the pleasure of playing in Philharmonic Hall
was mainly geographical. The hall was built three blocks from the home he has occupied for nearly 40 years, and Monk serenely
regards the choice of the site as a favor to him from the city fathers, a personal convenience, along with the new bank and
other refinements that urban renewal has brought to his old turf. The neighborhood, in Manhattan's West 60's, is called San
Juan Hill. It is one of the oldest and most decent of the city's Negro ghettos. Monk's family settled there in 1924, coming
north from Rocky Mount, N.C., where Thelonious was born.
He was a quiet, obedient child, but his name very quickly
set him apart. "Nobody messed with Thelonious," he recalls, "but they used to call me 'Monkey' and you know what a drag that
was." His father returned to the South alone to recover from a long illness, leaving Monk's mother, a sternly correct civil
servant, to work hard to give her three children a genteel polish. At eleven, Thelonious began weekly piano lessons at 75˘
It took Monk only a year to discover that the pianists
he really admired were not in the books - such players as Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, James P. Johnson. By the time he was
14, Monk was playing jazz at hard-times "rent parties" up in Harlem. He soon began turning up every Wednesday for amateur
night at the Apollo Theater, but won so often, that he was eventually barred from the show. He was playing stride piano -
a single note on the first and third beats of the bar, a chord on the second and fourth. Unable to play with the rococo wizardry
of Art Tatum or Teddy Wilson, though, he found a way of his own. His small hands and his unusual harmonic sense made his style
Monk quit high school at 16 to go on tour with a divine
healer - "we played and she healed." But within a year he was back in New York, playing the piano at Kelly's Stable on 52nd
Street. The street was jumping in those days, and in advance of the vogue, Monk bought a zoot suit and grew a beard; his mood,
for a change, was just right for the time. The jazz world was astir under the crushing weight of swing; the big dance bands
had carried off the healthiest child of
Negro music and starved it of its spirit until its parents
no longer recognized it. In defiant self-defense, Negro players were developing something new -"something they can't play,"
Monk once called it - and at 19, Monk got into the heart of things by joining the house band at Minton's.
The New Sound.
All the best players of the time would drop by to sit in
at Minton's. Saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker, Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, Drummer Kenny Clarke and Guitarist Charlie Christian
were all regulars and, in fitful collaboration with them, Monk presided at the birth of bop. His playing was a needling inspiration
to the others. Rhythms scrambled forward at his touch, the oblique boldness of his harmonies forced the horn players into
flights the likes of which had never been heard before.
"The Monk runs deep," Bird would say, and with some reluctance
Monk became "the High Priest of Bebop." The name of the new sound, Monk now says, was a slight misunderstanding of his invention;
"I was calling it bipbop, but the others must have heard me wrong."
When bop drifted out of Harlem and into wider popularity
after the war, Monk was already embarked on his long and lonely scuffle. Straight bop - which still determines the rhythm
sense of most jazzmen - was only a passing phase for Monk.
He was outside the mainstream, playing a lean dissonant,
unresolved jazz that most players found perilously difficult to accompany. Many musicians resented him, and he quickly lost
his grip on steady jobs. Alone in his room, where he had composed his earliest music - 'Round Midnight; Well, You Needn't;
Ruby, My Dear - he worked or simply stared at the picture of Billie Holiday tacked to his ceiling. In 1947 he made his first
recording under his own name and witnessed to his horror, a breathless publicity campaign that sounded as if the Abominable
Snowman had been caged by Blue Note Records.
The same year, Monk married a neighborhood girl named Nellie
Smith, who had served a long and affectionate apprenticeship lighting his cigarettes and washing his dishes. Monk had always
been unusually devoted to his mother; Nellie simply moved into his room so he could stay home with mom. Thus, to his intense
satisfaction he had two mothers. He still found jobs hard to come by, so Nellie went to work as a clerk to buy him clothes
and cheer him up with pocket money.
A Drink at Least.
Things were terrible until 1951, when they got worse. Monk
was arrested along with Bud Powell when a packet of heroin was found in their possession. Monk had always been "clean" but
he refused to let Powell take the rap alone. "Every day I would plead with him." Nellie says, '"Thelonious, get yourself out
of this trouble. You didn't do anything" But he'd just say "Nellie, I have to walk the streets when I get out. I can't talk,"'
Monk held his silence and was given 60 days in jail.
As soon as he was released, the police cancelled his "cabaret
card," a document required of all entertainers who appear in New York nightclubs. Losing the card cost Monk his slender livelihood,
but he had a reputation as an oddball and the police were adamant. For six years Monk could not play in New York; though he
made a few records and went out on the road now and then, he was all but silenced. "everybody was saying Thelonious was weird
or locked up." Nellie recalls, "But they just talked that way because they'd never see him. He hated to be asked why he wasn't
working, and he didn't want to see anybody unless he could buy them a drink at least. Besides, it hurts less to be passed
over for jobs if you aren't around to hear the other's names called. It was a bad time. He even had to pay to get into Birdland."
Monk was the man who was not with it, and jazz was passing
him by. Miles Davis had come on with his "impressionist" jazz style - a rubato blowing in spurts and swoons, free of any vibrato,
cooler than ice. The Modern Jazz Quartet was playing a kind of introverted 17th century jazz behind inscrutable faces, and
Dave Brubeck (TIME cover November 8, 1954) introduced polished sound that came with the complete approval of Darius Milhaud.
Suddenly jazz - one of the loveliest and loneliest of sounds, the creation of sad and sensitive men - was awash with rondos
and fugues. The hipsters began dressing like graduate students.
Money & Medicine.
Monk was sustained during much of this bleak time by his
friend, mascot and champion, the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, 50. The baroness had abandoned the aseptic, punctual
world of her family* for the formless life of New York's night people. In 1955 she acquired undeserved notoriety when Charlie
Parker died in her apartment ("BOP KING DIES IN HEIRESS' FLAT") She had merely made an honest stab at saving his life with
gifts of money and medicine in his last few days. From then on, though, Nica cut a wide swath in the jazz world. She is, after
all, not a Count Basie or a Duke Ellington, but an honest-to-God Baroness, seeing her pull up in her Bentley with a purse
crammed with Chivas Regal, the musicians took enormous pride in her friendship.
Monk was her immediate fascination, and Monk, who only
has eyes for Nellie, cheerfully took her on as another mother. She gave him rides, rooms to compose and play in, and, in 1957,
help in getting back the vital cabaret card. The baroness, along with Monk's gentle manager, a Queens high school teacher
named Harry Colomby, collected medical evidence that Monk was not a junkie, along with character references by jazzmen and
musical scholars. The cops gave in, and for the first time in years Monk began playing regularly in New York. The music he
made at the Five Spot with Tenorman John Coltrane was the talk of jazz.
Monk was making a small but admired inroad into the "funk"
and "soul" movements that had superseded the "cool." Funk was a deeper reach into Negro culture than jazz had taken before,
a restatement of church music and African rhythms, but its motive was the same as bop's-- finding something that white musicians
had not taken over and, if possible, something they would sound wrong playing.
Then Monk lost his card again. Monk, the baroness, and
Monk's present saxophonist were driving through Delaware for a week's work in Baltimore. Monk stopped at a motel for a drink
of water, and when he lingered in his imposing manner, the manager called the police. Monk was back in the Bentley when the
cops arrived, and he held fast to the steering wheel when they tried to pull him out - on the Monkish ground that he had done
nothing to deserve their attention.
Even though the baroness shrieked to watch out for his
hands, the furious cops gave his knuckles such a beating that he bears the lumps to this day. The baroness took the rap for
"some loose marijuana" found in the trunk, but after three years legal maneuvering she was acquitted. No narcotics charges
were placed against Monk, but because of the scandal the police again picked up his card.
(*She is the daughter of the late British banker Nathaniel
Charles Rothschild and the sister of the 3rd Baron Rothschild, but she takes her title from her marriage to Baron Jules de
Koenigswarter, a hero of the French Resistance who is presently French Ambassador to Peru.)
You Tell 'Em.
Two years later, after further lobbying at Headquarters,
Monk returned to the scene. Since then his luck has changed. Three years have passed without a whisper of trouble. Abroad,
at least, he is approached as if he were a visiting rofessor (Interview on an Amsterdam radio station last week: "Who has
had the greatest influence on your playing, Mr Monk?" "Well, me of course.") Most pleasing of all to Monk is a new quartet
led by Soprano Saxophonist Steve Lacy that is dedicated solely to the propogation of Monk's music. In the past Monk has been
the only voice of his music, he even has trouble finding sidemen.
His present accompanists, Rouse on tenor, Butch Warren
24, on bass, and Ben Riley, 30, on drums-- have a good feeling for his music. Rouse is a hard-sound player who knows that
his instrument suggests a human cry more than a bird song, and he plays as if he is speaking the truth. Warren's rich, loping
bass is well suited to Monk's rhythms if not his harmonic ideals, he is like a pony in pasture who traces his mother's footsteps
without stealing her grace.
Riley has just joined the band, but he could be the man
Monk is looking for. A great drummer, as the nonpareil Baby Dodds once observed "ought to make the other fellas feel like
playing." Riley does exactly that, with a subtle, very musical use of the drums that forsakes thunder for thoughtfulness.
Monk's sidemen traditionally hang back, smiling and relaxed,
and apart from an occasional Rouse solo, they seem content to let Monk lead. "That's right, Monk." they seem to be saying,
"you tell 'em, baby." But Monk demands that musicians be themselves. "A man's a genius just for looking like himself," he
will say "Play yourself!" With such injunctions in the air, the quartet's performances are uneven.
Some nights all four play as though their very lives are
at stake; some nights, wanting inspiration, all four sink without a bubble. But it is part of Monk's mystique never to fire
anyone. He just waits, hoping to teach, trusting that a man who cannot learn will eventually sense the master's indifference
and discreetly abandon ship.
Now that Monk is being heard regularly, he seems more alone
that ever. Jazz has unhappily splintered into hostile camps, musically and racially. Lyrical and polished players are accused
of "playing white," which means to pursue beauty before truth. The spirit and sound of each variety of jazz is carefully analyzed,
isolated and pronounced a "bag." Players in the soul bag, the African bag and the freedom bag are all after various hard,
aggressive and free sounds, and there are also those engaged in "action blowing," a kind of shrieking imitation of action
Within each bag, imitation of the "daddy" spreads through
the ranks like summer fires. Trumpeters try to play like Miles Davis. And hold their horns like Miles. And dress like Miles.
Bassists imitate Charlie Mingus or Scott LeFaro: drummers, Max Roach or Elvin Jones. Sax players copy Sonny Rollins or John
Coltrane, who is presently so much the vogue that the sound of his whole quartet is being echoed by half the jazz groups in
Bud Powell, Red Garland, Bill Evans and Horace Silver all
have had stronger influences than Monk's on jazz pianists. Monk's sound is so obviously his own that to imitate it would be
as risky and embarrassing as affecting a Chinese accent to order chop suey. Besides, Monk is off in a bag all his own, and
in the sleek, dry art that jazz threatens to become, that is the best thing about him.
A Curse in Four Beats.
In the gossipy world of jazz, Monk is also less discussed
than many others. Occasionally he will say some splendid thing and the story will make the rounds, but there are personalities
more actively bizarre than Monk's around. Rollins is a Rosicrucian who contemplates the East River, letting his telephone
ring in his ear for hours while he studies birds from his window. Mingus is so obsessed with goblins from the white world
that person to person he is as perverse as a roulette wheel; his analyst wrote the notes for his last record jacket. Coltrane
is a health addict - doing push-ups, scrubbing his teeth, grinding up cabbages.
And Miles Davis, Miles broods in his beautiful town house,
teaching his son to box so that he won't fear white men, raging at every corner of a world that made him wealthy, a world
that is now, in Guinea and the Congo as well as in Alabama and New York, filled with proud little boys who call themselves
Miles Davis. He is a man who needs to shout, but his anger is trapped in a hoarse whisper caused by an injury to his vocal
chords. The frustration shows.
Onstage, he storms inwardly, glaring at his audience, wincing
at his trumpet, stabbing and and tugging at his ear. Often his solos degenerate into a curse blown again and again through
his horn in four soft beats. But Miles can break hearts. Without attempting the strident showmanship of most trumpeters, he
still creates a mood of terror supressed - a lurking and highly exciting impression that he may someday blow his brains out
playing. No one, Dizzy Gillespie included, does it so well.
Racial woes are at the heart of much bad behaviour in jazz,
and the racial question is largely a confusion between life and art. Negroes say whites cannot play, when they mean that whites
have always taken more money out of jazz than their music warranted.
Whites complain of "Crow Jim" when what they mean is that
work is scarcer than ever, even for them. The fact is that most of the best jazz musicians are Negroes and there is very little
work to go around on either side.
At bars and back tables in the 20 or so good jazz clubs
in the country, talented, frustrated musicians-- many of them historic figures in jazz-- hang around in the hope of hearing
their names called, like longshoremen at a midnight shape-up. Junkies who were good players a year ago swoop through the clubs
in search of a touch, faces faintly dusty, feet itching, nodding, scratching.
The simple jazz fans in the audience sit shivering in the
cold fog of hostility the players blow down from the stand. A dig-we-must panic inhibits them from displaying any enthusiasm--
which only further convinces the players that their music is lost on the wind.
An Oriental Garden.
Monk surveys these sad facts with some bitterness, "I don't
have any musician friends," he says, "I was friends to a lot of musicians, but looks like they weren't friends to me." He
sometimes makes quiet and kindly gestures - such as sending money to Bud Powell, caged in a tuberculosis sanitorium outside
Paris - but his words are hard. "All you're supposed to do is lay down the sounds and let people pick up on them." he says,
"If you ain't doing that, you just ain't a musician. Nothing more to it than that."
Now that his turn has come, Monk cuts a fine figure on
the scene. Nellie spends a hysterical half-hour every evening getting him into his ensemble, and when he steps out the door
he looks faintly like an Oriental garden - subtle colors echoing back and forth, prim suits and silk shirts glimmering discreetly.
He spends hours standing around with his band, talking
in his unpenetrable, oracular mode. "All ways know, always night, all ways know - and dig the way I say 'all ways'" he says,
smiling mysteriously. When he is playing anywhere near New York, the baroness comes to drive him home, and they fly off in
the Bentley, content in the knowledge that there is no one remotely like either one of them under the sun.
They race against the lights for the hell of it, and when
the car pulls up in Monk's block, he skips out and disappears into his old $39-a-month apartment. The baroness then drives
home to Weehawken, where she lives in a luxurious bedroom oasis, surrounded by the reeking squalor her 32 cats have created
in the other rooms.
Monk spends lazy days at home with Nellie - "layin dead."
he calls it. Their two children Thelonious, 14, and Barbara, 10, are off in boarding schools, and Monk's slumbers go undisturbed.
Nellie flies around through the narrow paths left between great piles of possessions, tending to his wants. Clothes are in
the sink, boxes and packages are on the chairs; Monk's grand piano stands in the kitchen, the foundation for a tower of forgotten
souvenirs, phone books, a typewriter, old magazines and groceries. From his bed Monk announces his wishes ("Nellie! Ice cream!"),
and Nellie races to serve, she retaliates gently by calling him "Melodious Thunk" in quiet mutters over the sink.
Nellie and the few other people who have ever known Monk
in the slightest all see a great inner logic to his life that dignifies everything he says and does. He never lies. He never
shouts. He has no greed. He has no envy. His message, as Nellie interprets it to their children is noble and strong, "Be yourself,"
she tells them "Don't bother about what other people say, because you are you. The thing to be is just yourself."
She also tells them that Monk is no one special,
but the children have seen him asleep with his Japanese skullcap on his head, or with a cabbage leaf drooping from his lapel,
and they know better. "I try to tell them different," Nellie says, "but of course I can't. After all, if Thelonious isn't
special, then what is?"
The Time article sparked a discourse and debate over how mainstream media presented Monk.
Was the piece an honor for a pioneering musician or a patronizing, perhaps degrading, article about yet another eccentric
Even the magazine publisher , Bernhard M. Auer, felt the need to write a 'letter to the
editor' about Monk, regarding the Time cover piece. Here are some excerpts:
"During four sittings Thelonious had a disconcerting habit of dropping off to sleep. Portrait artist
Chaliapin would yell at him, 'Monk, Monk, wake up!,' then prod him out of his armchair and walk him around the studio. Says
he: 'Monk's very strange-- in the best sense of the word.' As for Thelonious, it took him a week to learn to pronounce the
painter's name. Having mastered it, he improvised a song that repeated "Chaliapin! Chaliapin!" over and over again, in the
manner of "Hallelujah!"
While preparing the cover story, Barry Farrell found that 'you can't really interview Monk.'
He had about 30 chats with him, spread over two or three months, mostly walking around outside the
Five Spot, Monk's Manhattan base, or sitting in some dark bar at 2 a.m., 'just like Cosa Nostra.'
Farrell considers himself 'a jazz fan in a way I am not a fan of anything else,' takes a night or two
each week 'to beat about the scene.' But he thinks that for all its joy, jazz is surrounded by so much sadness that 'to just
say you love jazz is wrong.'
One of the incidental benefits of jazz has always been to enrich the American idiom. A fairly
recent jazz expression, used in this week's cover story, is 'bag,' meaning school, camp or category.
"In the occasionally special journalistic idiom we speak at work here at TIME, the expression may prove
useful; we may yet end up referring to what is going on in the Democratic bag, the United Nations bag, the fashion, Pop art
or symphonic bag. But one thing our cover story makes clear beyond doubt: there is no one else quite like Thelonious Monk
in the jazz 'bag.'"