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Summary Article: Monk, Thelonious Sphere
From Chambers Biographical Dictionary


US jazz pianist and composer

He was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and brought up in New York. After childhood piano lessons, he began to perform at "rent parties" in Harlem and to play in church. While in his twenties, he worked as a freelance musician and studied briefly at the Juilliard School of Music. Between 1939 and 1945 he worked under a succession of leaders in New York, including Kenny Clarke, Lucky Millinder, Cootie Williams and Kermit Scott. Monk first recorded while with the Coleman Hawkins Sextet in 1944. During this period the bebop style was causing a ferment among young jazz musicians in New York, and Monk was a key figure in these experiments at Minton's Playhouse. He joined Dizzy Gillespie's first big band in 1946, formed specifically to perform bebop-style arrangements. Monk formed his own small group in 1947, and from that time his performing and recording was done largely with small groups, latterly with a quartet using such tenor saxophone players as John Coltrane, Johnny Griffin and (for eleven years) Charlie Rouse. World tours from the 1960s brought wide recognition for Monk's percussive and harmonically iconoclastic style. He played little after the mid-1970s but many of his compositions, such as "Round Midnight" and "Straight No Chaser", are frequently performed.

© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2011

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