And yet we present you another series on jazz history and theory! We welcome you to our last 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”.
One must understand Monk’s early life and his education of jazz to fully understand his pianism. Monk’s actual music education started on the trumpet. Then a respiratory illness caused him to switch to piano. He narrates his first years with piano: “I always wanted to play the piano. A lady gave us a piano. The player-piano kind. I saw how the rolls made the keys move. Very interesting. . . . I learned the chords and fingering on the piano. I figured it out. I jumped from that to reading. But I had to go further than that. I had a little teaching: you have to have some kind of teaching.” Although Monk started piano lessons a few years later, he, after all, was a self-taught piano player. He learned chords, scales, and mods by himself. His technique and posture were unique because of his lack of traditional jazz piano education. This nonetheless how Monk started to create his individual sense of music, from his early jazz life.
Monk was making rapid progress as a teen, showing up to jazz clubs as an adolescent and joining the jams with other experienced jazz artists. Jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams happened to be an audience in one of Monk’s earliest jams. She recalls that Monk has played much more technical and that he gave emphasis to tradition in his improvisations. This clearly showed that Monk wasn’t incompetent. From this, it might be deduced that Monk’s disposition and sound that lacked the technical ability to jazz audience was actually a choice that Monk makes. It has been clear that Monk’s own individuality oriented and canalized him to a non-traditional jazz sound, where technical proficiencies are not needed. Rather than pre-competent, and trying to reach the traditional jazz sound, he was a post-competent who has tasted and reached the traditional jazz sound and amended the necessary technicalities to reach his own individual sound.