On this day in history, one of the true heroes of my life was born; the inimitable Thelonious Sphere Monk. There is simply no sound on earth like the sound of his piano playing; no groove more perfectly, elegantly swinging; no melody more eccentrically soothing; no harmony more angularly, insightfully compelling; no music more idiosyncratically brilliant; Monk.
“There ain’t no wrong notes on the piano.” As good a mantra for life as any.
Listen, if you haven’t already, to Monk’s solo piano reinvention of “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.” I defy you to come away unconverted.
Monk is, for me, the archetype of everything I adore in life. My Grandfather Gene Logan, after careers running the gamut from USC football trainer and author of texts on anatomic kinesiology, to Navy man and bluegrass musician, ended up making his money in life as a sculptor; one of his great inspirations was a quote from Francis Bacon (the 16th century English philosopher, not the painter of, among other masterpieces, Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, though the quote could certainly apply to Mr. Bacon’s work):
There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.
Which is the sound of Monk. It is also your lover’s face, and your child’s tummy; it is a perfectly imperfect haiku, and Bukka White performing Shake ‘Em On Down; it is a hand-harvested, wild-yeast-fermented, unfiltered, well-matured, gently and perfectly decanted bottle of wine, and it is the friends you share it with; your glorious, imperfect, strange, and wonderful friends.
You and everything around you is imperfect, and beautiful. Drinking wine and listening to Thelonious Monk is a meditation on this, an awareness ritual of the profoundest sort.
That oh-so-equally profound, and perhaps most spiritually intense of jazz musicians John Coltrane, once said of Monk, “When you learn one of Monk’s pieces, you can’t learn just the melody and chord symbols. You have to learn the inner voicings and rhythms exactly. Everything is so carefully related.”
Everything is so carefully related. The Buddhist cosmology.
Complexity for complexity is nothing, just noise in the air. And simplicity for simplicity is just that; simple. But multi-tiered sheets of complexities upon complexities upon complexities; seamless integrated, and inter-related; am I talking Jazz? Or Wine? Or Life itself?
And speaking of mantras, the Monk quote I probably dig the most, because it’s an instruction for anyone engaged in the creative act; musician or poet, winemaker or chef, architect or engineer, painter or photographer, any and all of us for whom an act of any kind is an exercise in creativity, to us all, Monk’s reminder:
Everyone is influenced by everybody, but you bring it down home the way you feel it.
Bless you Thelonious Sphere Monk, on this, the anniversary of your birth on this earth, for bringing it down home the way you felt it.
Tags: Thelonious Monk