Thelonious Monk on How to Play Jazz

Everybody has their opinion about how to play the music. Monk was a one-off, a totally individual and realised artist, but he thought about it, in his own way too. This manuscript is freely available on the web (I found it at Sean Driscoll’s excellent blog – check it out). Makes a change from chords and scales…

  • Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.
  • Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head, when you play.
  • Stop playing all those weird notes (that bullshit), play the melody!
  • Make the drummer sound good.
  • Discrimination is important.
  • You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?
  • ALL REET!
  • Always know….(MONK)
  • It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn’t need the lights.
  • Let’s lift the band stand!!
  • I want to avoid the hecklers.
  • Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that. Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you!
  • The inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good.
  • Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important that what you do.
  •  A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.
  • Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, and when it comes, he’s out of shape and can’t make it.
  • When you’re swinging, swing some more.
  • (What should we wear tonight? Sharp as possible!)
  • Always leave them wanting more.
  • Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene. These pieces were written so as to have something to play and get cats interested enough to come to rehearsal.
  • You’ve got it! If you don’t want to play, tell a joke or dance, but in any case, you got it! (To a drummer who didn’t want to solo)
  • Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself.
  • They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along and spoil it.
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2 Comments

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  1. Seems like he started to run out of steam after ‘Make The Drummer Sound Good.’ I wonder if these were notes that he learned from others and wrote down in order to remember, or if this was his method of teaching younger musicians.

    Either way, ‘Make The Drummer Sound Good’ is a very important thing to think about, and Monk (and Charlie Rouse) really succeeded in doing it.

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