And yet we present you another series on jazz history and theory! We welcome you to our second post on the series “On Monk’s Pianism and Technique” where we analyze Monk’s eccentric instrumental technique and its influence on jazz history with the help of Benjamin Givan’s amazing article “Thelonious Monk’s Pianism”.
The initial reaction to Monk, when he first came out (check out the previous post on the series for details) can be simply understood as the reflections on the unconventional style of his pianism in the audience. While the general audience tried to “understand” Monk’s playing and his “intention” in his choices, Monk’s unique style was saying much fewer things about intentions and decomposing his music. “Monk’s usual piano touch was harsh and percussive, even in ballads,” states jazz scholar Thomas Owens. Unlike the classical and traditional style of the piano which emphasizes its unmechanical nature with sustained tones, legato phrasing, and dynamic attacks. This was surely far positioned from Monk’s pianism.
Even his technique in his fingers and his elbows were not similar to what has been taught since the beginning of jazz tradition. Monk’s percussive inclined style and stance devoid of technique seemed unorthodox and unfamiliar to most listeners. His overall disposition has seemed to lack the technique that a jazz pianist should have. While the listeners tried to fit his nice music along with his composing (including his structures of melodic sentences and other concepts), they tried to understand if Monk was purposefully dropping his technique or was just a pianist trying to be great and just coming short. However, after all, the query of intention wasn’t the right question to ask in order to understand Monk’s pianism.