I first heard Thelonious Monk in 1970, several years before I put my jazz head on. Probably it was my classmate Warren who auditioned an LP track. I don’t recall which one. I didn’t care for it. However, in the winter of 1971 I began working part time in a record store next to the post office in Cleveland Heights. In Budget records and Tapes’s collection of vinyl promos were two Monk records, Monk’s Blues, the big band record arranged by Oliver Nelson, and, Criss Cross, a quartet record from the sixties with tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse. The former record was one of the owner’s favorite records. At the time the available discography of the master was quite slim with the exception of the Columbia recordings, all of which dated from the sixties beginning in 1963.
“To be nobody but yourself in a world that night and day wants to make you like everybody else is to fight the greatest battle you will fight and never stop fighting.” – E. E. Cummings
The iconic Cleveland jazz maven Harvey Pekar scoffed at the big band record one day while in the store, and lamented the unavailability of the “class Blue Note sides.” But, never mind, Harvey, despite your influence on my tastes and your insistence on the store bringing in the Black Lion trio dates recorded in 1971 and released in 1972, it would not be until those Blue Notes were issued in a stirling twofer in 1976 that I got bitten by the Monk hard.
How hard? ‘Life-changingly hard.’ Monk is second to no one in my estimation and surely in my experience. Happy 100th birthday to the khidr of sound, Thelonious Sphere Monk.