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Monk's Chord Changes

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by fdeck, Feb 9, 2013.

  1. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I just finished Robin Kelley's biography of Monk. What I gathered is that Monk did not willingly hand out charts to his bands, expected them to learn his tunes by ear on the bandstand, and discouraged them from soloing over the changes -- preferring that they solo directly over the melodies.

    So, a far cry from today's "real book gig." ;)

    All of these things together got me wondering: Did Monk even write changes for his tunes, or are the accepted changes (i.e., in fake books) the result of somebody else figuring them out and writing them down?
  2. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    Of course he did... but, you have to listen to the recordings, not get the chords from fake books.

    * * *

    I should clarify (since I was not there), if he did not actually write the changes down (onto paper), he did compose them.

    Nothing wrong with expecting musicians to learn by ear - they are most likely more advanced players, if they can do that.
  3. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    That's cool. Note that I'm not bagging on Monk. And I enjoy learning tunes by ear. I'm just curious as to the origins of the changes that we use for those tunes today.
  4. There were no jazz fake books 50+ years ago. I learned Monk tunes from listening to recordings. Clearly, Monk tunes are structured.
    I haven't read the book, and I know I won't, but keep in mind that Robin Kelley is not a musician. He is a Marxist historian.
  5. isolated

    isolated Zenkaku

    Take a gander at this for an in-depth analysis of Monk and his music, specifically "Rules of Grammar" which is about a third of the way down. Some fact, some opinion, but all relevant to your question in its own way.
  6. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    Thanks for the responses, and for being patient with me. I grew up in the fake book era. After getting to a certain point by playing along to recordings and the jazz station on the radio, I found out about fake books, and got one. Later, I stopped using them simply because I was tired of hauling them around.
  7. From what older people tell me, things were also different back then, in that qualified full-time-musicians could often get 7-10 paying gigs a week, doubling and tripling up on weekends. If you are performing with the same people 5-6 times a week in front of an audience, and gigging so much with others, who has time, or need, to make detailed charts? Everybody already knows each others playing language, and they are all playing the malleable youth music of the day. Just show them the goods on the bandstand, and they'll pick it up.

    It's a different thing if you only meet the other musicians to perform as a group once a week, or once every two weeks, and are each playing in a sound that is a bit more foreign.
  8. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
  9. Miles Davis, for a couple of the more popular ones at least.
  10. FWIW I've corresponded quite a bit with him and while yes, he is a historian by training, he is also a very good life-long amateur jazz pianist.
    Seth Miller likes this.
  11. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    It seems possible that Monk was a unique case. According to Kelley, he wrote out his tunes, but didn't hand out charts to his bands. His tunes have a carefully crafted harmonic structure, but he didn't want his sidemen to learn the tunes from lead sheets. His harmonic language was apparently quite foreign to many of his sidemen, some of whom gave up after a few nights. Interestingly, it seems like many of the players who were capable of hanging with him on the bandstand went on to illustrious careers of their own.

    For myself, I will see if the answers to some of my puzzles are to be found in Monk's music. In particular, I will update my collection with some recordings that include tunes that I've neither heard nor played from a lead sheet.
  12. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    I read that Monk bio too (excellent book) and I personally don't think Monk used charts when teaching compositions to his band members. It's not just because of what I read in the book either, it's because of the way his tunes sound on the recordings. It seems as though you had to be pretty darn killin' to be in Monk's band, and the way his melodies are executed by Coltrane, Johnny Griffin, Charlie Rouse, etc.. I don't know, they all sound so deeply inside Monk's music, and when you learn something entirely by ear that's getting pretty deep inside of things, right? Anyway, just my 2 cents there.
  13. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    There's a great story in Bill Crow's column in the 802 paper -apparently Monk could play, pretty convincingly, in the style of Bud Powell. He and Walter Davis Jr. are in a hotel room that has a piano in it, so Davis sits down to play. Then Monk sits down and rips through a Bud "impression" and looks up to see Davis with a surprised expression. Monk says "Don't tell nobody..."
    And my favorite Monk quote of late - There's two kind of mistakes; the regular kind and then there's the kind that don't sound so good.
  14. I think this came from a story reported in Down Beat in the 50's, that has been clouded a bit over time. Monk was recording, and abruptly stopped. The sound room asked why he stopped, and Monk replied he had made a mistake. What mistake? he was asked, and Monk said "a mistake that didn't sound good".
  15. hennessybass

    hennessybass Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2008
    North East Texas
    Love Monk.
    He didn't play live for many, many years because of a problem with his cabaret license that allowed him to play live in clubs. He was a very strange man, and kind of a recluse in his house during the time he was not performing.

    Miles Davis also used this approach during this fusion days. I read an account by one of his band members that basically said, the band (hired guns) arrived for the show, set up, and didn't see Miles till he walked out on stage for the performance. The band member said he did not say anyting or provide any music, but simply walked on stage, told the band "D minor" and started playing.

    You guys should check this out... advice from Monk on performing. Good advice for all musicians, and a little look into the mind of Monk. http://www.listsofnote.com/2012/02/thelonious-monks-advice.html
  16. skwee


    Apr 2, 2010
    Ran across that advice page a number of years ago. Sound advice from a cool cat. Monk was taking blues and composition into new places, and can be a hard nut to crack, especially when you are singing one of his tunes. Scatting, you have to be like John Coltrane level, and emotionally you have to caress the words like Ella.
  17. wrench45us


    Aug 26, 2011
    I watched a documentary on Monk and I swear in one studio sequence Monk had music in front of him, but seriously I don't think Charlie Rouse had a stand in front of him.

    I do remember one sequence where Rouse asks on one chord if Monk wants a C or C# on top of that chord and Monk tells him play what you like. (paraphrased from memory)
  18. Overstatement. The cabaret card was a New York City requirement, no place else.
  19. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    It came to me through Kirk Nurock, I'll ask him next time I run into him...
  20. It's plausible that both stories are accurate.
    I'm at the age where I clearly remember stuff from 60 years ago, but can't tell you what I had for lunch yesterday.