“Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. In this edition, Art Blakey tells a story of Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane that took place during the 1957 recording session of Monk’s Music.
Thelonious Monk, 1957
Coleman Hawkins, 1957
John Coltrane, 1957
The legendary jazz writer Nat Hentoff wrote in his 1976 book Jazz Is that Thelonious Monk was “one of the most liberating teachers in jazz” and had an impact on John Coltrane, “as on practically all the musicians who have played with him. Monk kept insisting that musicians must keep working at stretching themselves, at going beyond their limitations, which really were artificial limitations that came from their having absorbed conventional – and thereby constricting – standards of what can and what cannot be done on an instrument.”
An example of Monk’s approach is found in this story told by the drummer Art Blakey, which appears in J.C. Thomas’ 1976 book, Coltrane: Chasin’ the Trane:
“I played drums on the Monk’s Music album  for Riverside, where Monk expanded his group to a septet with both Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane on tenor. Naturally, Monk wrote all the music, but Hawk was having trouble reading it, so he asked Monk to explain it to both Trane and himself. Monk said to Hawk, ‘You’re the great Coleman Hawkins, right? You’re the guy who invented the tenor saxophone, right?’ Hawk agreed. Then Monk turned to Trane, “You’re the great John Coltrane, right?’ Trane blushed, and mumbled, ‘Aw…I’m not so great.’ Then Monk said to both of them, ‘You play the saxophone, right?’ They nodded. ‘Well, the music is on the horn. Between the two of you, you should be able to find it.’”
Excerpted from Coltrane: Chasin’ the Trane, by J.C. Thomas