T.S. Monk on father Thelonious Monk and his music

February 9th, 1998

T.S. Monk has done what few children of cultural genius’ have done before him….forge a successful, highly respected career of his own. His current release, the enhanced CD “Monk on Monk”, is not only one of the best Monk tribute albums ever recorded, critics have mentioned it as among the best jazz releases of 1997.

His live performances are charged, his band tight and loud and crisp, his charisma looming and infectious. He makes you want to embrace him and share an anecdote or two about his father; because that is what we have in common with this man…his father, and how he affected our lives and the world of music.

The temptation is strong to spend an entire hour asking him about his old man. That would have been easy, and I think he would have been willing to go there with us. But TS Monk is a powerful figure in jazz in his own right. His own story is rich and fulfilling and heady.

This interview was conducted on February 9, 1998 via telephone. We are grateful to TS Monk for sharing his time, his thoughts, his energy, and his wisdom. Read it in its entirety, or choose the “chapter headings” below that will link you to the specific topic you find interest in. Either way, enjoy!




JJM: I wanted to start the interview with something that Orrin Keepnews once said. He described your father’s work as “frontier building”, in other words, on the cutting edge creatively. Do you consider your work to be “frontier building” work.

TS: No. Not at all. I consider my role in the business as sort of…..clarifiication. Until Art Blakey passed away, I felt the Jazz Mesengers defined the very best in what jazz was supposed to be about. Exciting band, wonderful soloists, the same players as often as possible. When I got involved as a jazz leader in 1992, that was sort of my philosophical center. My concept for TS Monk sextet and everything I do is to be laying it down so it’s easy to understand. Now, there are guys that are on the cutting edge. The cutting edge is never easy to understand, but I think one of the problems with jazz is the industry got shocked at this plethora of genius that popped up in the 50’s. It was a surprise. It wasn’t planned. Monk and Trane and Miles turned out to be giants, but you have to remember they came out of great bands. All of a sudden, there was an emphasis on finding “leaders”, on finding the “next” Trane or the “next” Monk and a total de-emphasis on bands, so the support for bands disappeared. So, you went from a situation where you could go to hear Miles with Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly and Paul Chambers and Wynton Kelly, and you could hear them in a club and you could hear them on a record. All of sudden it became a situation where you would hear Joe Henderson with Freddie Hubbard on the record but he isn’t there when it’s live. The guy’s got one band on the record and a whole bunch of college students when you go hear him live. Thus, by the year 1985, there was one true band left in jazz, and that was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

JJM: Wynton Marsalis played with Blakey, didn’t he?

TS: Of course, that’s where Wynton Marsalis came from. So, that’s what I’ve been trying to do with my band is to lay it down in a way so that the name TS Monk becomes synonomous with something that people really understand. It’s the real thing, but in a fashion people understood, like they did with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. As for the cuttting edge and pionereering, my father did that for 50 years and a bunch of guys that really addressed that issue. I think that the issue of translating whatever these pioneers come up with to a form that the man on the street can understand is just as important because jazz got detached from the man on the street and its led to a lot of suffering.

JJM: That brings me to another question. In a recent interview you said “we can sell jazz just like bubblegum if we only apply a hip marketing strategy to the problem at hand. My approach is about marketing. My approach is about be valid be solid but be loud, be visible, be entertaining, be charming…..Be all those things and do things in a fashion that make people take notice.” This interview is being published on a web site and people reading it surf the internet and tend to be on the cutting edge of this new technology. What I’m wondering is how do you see these new technologies, like the internet and DVD and enhanced CD’s effect the business of marketing jazz?

TS: Well, we have individuals in the industry of jazz, like myself, Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, who have understood the marketing concept that have worked for them as individuals. I remember very clearly in the early 80’s we were all laughing at Rhinestone Cowboy….Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash and those cats with the big hair and all….we laughed at that. But we also watched the entire country music industry decide that it was going to become an important integral part of the entertainment industry. We don’t laugh at Garth Brooks flying through Madison Square Garden anymore. And we know, those of us who have been around the music industry, that it was an industy change, a conscious change that it could become big time. They became as aggressive about selling country music as they were about rock and roll, and this is the next step, I believe. That’s what we have to do. We have to understand that if you spend money, you will make money. This is a concept that hasn’t sunk in yet, primarily because of the eternal nature of the music. They found out, years ago, that without any help at all, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis and Max Roach and John Coltrane became superstars. So now, we have to understand, that with a little help, imagine where we can go. If you look at someone like Joshua Redman…it is no doubt, or anyone in the industry’s, that the promotional and marketing push that he got as a result of winning the Thelonious Monk International competition….because this kid was on his way to law school at Harvard…but that catipulted him into superstardom as a jazz musician. That wasn’t an accident, because we’re not a record company at the Monk Institute, so we promoted the living hell out of him, sent him on his way, and somebody grabbed the ball and ran with it. What the industry has to understand, is that kind of aggressive approach to marketing is what it’s going to take to shake us loose and move us…because we have growth potential. Any industry analyst will tell you that rock is tapped out at 40% and it’s never going to get any bigger…so it doesn’t have growth potential..it has shrinkage potential…But jazz, at 4%, has got serious serious growth potential, particulary in the new found interest at the high school level. You have a whole new generation of high school and college students wanting to play jazz….not necessarily to become John Coltrane, but as a nice alternative skill to learn as opposed to learning to play the violin and never finding work in life. I think it’s a mentality that has to sink in. They understand it over at BET (Black Entertainment Television)….Robert Johnson….that jazz video network was not the result of some sort of whimsical fantasy to become a jazz entrepreneur. This cat sent his mareting and promotional people out there and they came back with things like “the average jazz listener has a median income of $36,000 a year, owns a home or condominium, drives a car, is college educated, uses Pepsodent, likes TV dinners”…I mean, all those reasons that make it viable business to sell this product because it reaches a demographic that buys other products that we want to get to, and that’s why jazz is on the air. We need more of that mentality. Don’t tell me you want to put it out there because you love it so much. Tell me you want to put it out there because you want to sell it. Exploit me a little bit!

I push them (N2K) constantly in terms of marketing. I do it at the Monk Institute, I do it with my own career. Yes, my name is Thelonious Monk, Jr., but all that does is get somebody to turn their head for a minute and give you a listen. I have not gone from no career in jazz to basically up at the top of the heap in jazz in five years by accident. It’s been my approach, even at Blue Note, which knew nothing about marketing jazz…I marketed the hell out of myself when I was at Blue Note and I showed them how to market me and I am doing the same thing at N2K and my approach to whether you come to see my live show or listen to my record, is to make it something that people want and like and understand. That’s what the meanstream is. You aren’t talking Phi Beta Kappa’s when you are talking to mainstream America. You are talking about just regular people who don’t have the time or a lot of energy to dicipher things continuously. You have to lay it out there in a simple fashion. Now often, in the past, jazz artists believed that you had to compromise the product in order to make it easy to understand. But that’s not true. What you have to do is you have to do all those things that everyone else does. You have to do the best job you can possibly do producing it, you have to package the hell out of it, and you have to let everyone know it’s there in an aggressive fashion. If you do those things, there is no doubt that jazz can sell. Will it sell like Michael Jackson? No! There are maybe one or two things on the planet…like velcro, that sell like Michael Jackson. In terms of a secure financial base and a secure artistic future for the music, I think it’s very very attainable. I think all we have to do is continue to understand that jazz was torn, literally, from the entertainment matrix. It went from big time entertainment, close to Broadway up in Harlem, to this sort of sedate, intellectual experience downtown. That was the result of racist restauranteurs (laughs) saying, “Golly, they’ve been going to Harlem since the 30’s, and all this money is up in Harlem. How can we get that money downtown? Well, maybe it’s that damn music! Let’s bring it downtown.” The mistake that they made is that they closed the dance floor…

JJM: When I saw your show in Birdland in November (97), I was really impressed with the way you handled the show. Your eagerness to stand up in front of the audience and tell stories….

TS: You have to do that. You know that issue you brought up about the vocals? By the way, that was brought about by the musician’s strike in the 40’s. That’s what got people hung up on vocals because those were the only guys that would work! But, what I found out about vocals is a few things. Number one is that the favorite form of music for all of humanity is the vocals. And that’s that! Now, above and beyond that, what I found out is interesting….We adore vocals so much, that we will listen in many forms. We will take them in a form of a song being sung…we will take them in the form of a song being rapped! So, what you saw me do is take vocalizing and we will take it in between the music.

JJM: It was excellent…

TS: So, any one of those forms, people will love you more than if you just gave them instrumental music. So, I found so as to not compromise the instrumental music I can do it in between the instrumental music and it has the same effect as if I was singing with the music, or rapping with the music, because people want to be talked to..they want to know that you know they appreciate you. It’s a very very basic thing. Rock and rollers have the formula down to “Everybody say yeah!” We aren’t necessarily in a position to do it that way..to simplify it down to that level. In the end, it’s the same thing, people want to know that you like them, that you’re having a good time doing what your doing. So often, I remember going to jazz concerts in the 70s and the guys had gotten so serious, I was saying, “Where did they get so serious? They didn’t get it from my Daddy! They didn’t get it from Coltrane and Miles because them cats was all crazy!” It had real big time personalities that projected all over the stage and all over the room.

JJM: Do you think Miles had something to do with that? He was really serious on stage…he turned his back to the audience….Did that have something to do with it?

TS: Well…you know how it had something to do with it? It was because guys like Miles and Thelonious did not talk to the press. Remember that be-bop was originally viewed as almost a communist movement. It had a political element to it that still is not often talked about. They had a very hostile relationship with the press. What that did, is that it opened the door for speculation. So when Miles turned his back to the audience and didn’t talk to the press regularly, the press had to speculate what he’s doing. “Well, what he must be doing, and since I heard him tell that white guy in the hallway “fuck you!”, he must be saying “fuck you” to the white audience. The fact of the matter is that Miles said, “I’m turning around to tell the band what to play!” So, a lot of that is a result of guys not talking to the press and people speculating. In actuality, what was going down, was that Miles was extremely cognizant of his personality on the bandstand. He knew that the crowd would come there and a certain percentage of that crowd would feel like their evening was fulfilled just because he turned his back to the audience, stuck out his hand, had a cigarette, and took five minutes away from the stage. People would be sitting there, wondering “what’s he doing?” Thelonious used to pull out four foot wide hankerchiefs. It was a way to wipe the sweat and have a handkerchief…but at the same time he was perfectly aware that the audience was amazed by the size of this. So these guys were very very aware and congnizent of it. You had a whole generation of guys that didn’t have an opportunity to talk to the Miles and the Monks and all these guys because these guys were dead, most of them, and so they had to go read back issues of Down Beat. When they read that, they read things like “Thelnious Monk didn’t like to talk.” Well, he didn’t talk to any press people, but if you talk to any one of the guys that worked with him, they’ll say Thelonious had a lot to say.

JJM: Have you read any of the new books on your father?

TS: No, I don’t read any of them, because I don’t authorize any of them. This is my take on it. I know that every one of those people that have written about Thelonious Monk, and that any of the 30 people in the future that are going to write about Thelonious Monk are trying to write the best book that they possibly can. So, I encourage everyone to read all the books until my mother or I decide to write one. In the meantime, please do not abstain from reading about Thelonious, because they are not authorized. You got a great number of books about many human beings that were written by many many people from a hundred different angles, and you need to read all of them to find out what that person was really all about. So, I don’t read the books, I haven’t authorized any because my mother is not into writing any books about my father and I will respect her wishes until she’s gone. But I encourage people to read them all because like I said, I don’t think anyone is out to hurt Thelonious, and that everyone I have ever talked to that likes Thelonious is fanatical about him. Not only fantatical, but very defensive and protective. So, every one of those writers who has written something about Thelonious Monk has not been because they needed an interesting guy to write a book about. It is because they are died in the wool, freaked out, Thelonious Monk maniacs, that felt compelled to write about him. So, I respect them, and I love them all.

JJM: So what was it about the drums that made you want to take them up as opposed to a saxophone or a clarinet?

TS: Because I’m a gadget maniac. From day one I loved gadgets. Thelonious was a gadget maniac. He had lighters that were music boxes and all kinds of things like that. He was the first one I knew with tiny TVs and cassette players. He loved that kind of stuff, and I was that way too, from the time I was a tiny little kid, and the drums was the instrument that looked like a huge gadget and I understood it from day one. It seemed like a no brainer for me. For me, the piano is still very confusing! I don’t get it! It’s not my preferred instrument. I love it, and I adore my father, but the piano would never be the instrument that I would say, “Oh I need to learn that, because I think it’s the instrument for me.” People assumed that because my father played it, but he never assumed that. And it was perfectly normal from his standpoint that I decided to play drums because I was around Max Roach, the greatest drummer in the world!

JJM: Did he make the greatest impression on you?

TS: Well. No.. I would say Art (Blakey). Without a doubt, Art, because Art was a great band leader. I pride myself on being a good band leader, first. You have to be a solid musician to be a jazz artist. That being a given, the world of jazz is made up of soloists…and then we have two jobs…we have a side men and we have band leaders. I’m a band leader, and I know how to get cats to play their ass off. That’s what band leading is all about. It’s not about being the star. It’s about leading the band.

JJM: Did he make the greatest impression on you?

TS: Well. No.. I would say Art (Blakey). Without a doubt, Art, because Art was a great band leader. I pride myself on being a good band leader, first. You have to be a solid musician to be a jazz artist. That being a given, the world of jazz is made up of soloists…and then we have two jobs…we have a side men and we have band leaders. I’m a band leader, and I know how to get cats to play their ass off. That’s what band leading is all about. It’s not about being the star. It’s about leading the band.

TS: Well. No.. I would say Art (Blakey). Without a doubt, Art, because Art was a great band leader. I pride myself on being a good band leader, first. You have to be a solid musician to be a jazz artist. That being a given, the world of jazz is made up of soloists…and then we have two jobs…we have a side men and we have band leaders. I’m a band leader, and I know how to get cats to play their ass off. That’s what band leading is all about. It’s not about being the star. It’s about leading the band.

JJM: You have a strong personality. In a way what you are saying is that you are the quarterback or the point guard as well…

TS:. Yes, that’s what I have always felt. I was talking to a guy and he was asking do you feel like a pioneer and I said, “no, I’m not one who pioneered jazz. I’m one of those guys who showed you how it’s done.” That’s what my mission is, is to show people how it’s done, and to make it very clear, to make it very easy to understand so that people can go crazy for it. I will leave the pioneering for my father and a few of these young guys that have a lot of energy for that kind of thing, because that’s a rough road.

JJM: Are any of your R & B tunes being re-played on the radio these days?

TS: My main tune, “Bon Bon Vie” is in classic R & B rotation all over the country. Every day. My stuff has been sampled by groups like Black Street Punk, Public Enemy…a lot of different people I am very delighted and very flattered, because, there seems to be a group of artists from the 80s that these young kids like and then, after that, it’s all 70s and 60s.

JJM: I remember seeing your album in the late 70s. I opened up the package from Atlantic Records and I said to myself, “Who in the world is TS Monk? He’s either Monk’s son, a relative of Monk, or it’s just somebody taking his name.”

TS: I am one of the few, rarest of jazz artists that has ping – ponged between this and pop music. When I think about the guys that have done it, you’ve got Herbie Hancock, and Grover Washington and George Benson….To be a top jazz artist and a top 10 artist, there are only two or three guys that have done it, so I think I am in very very rare air. I will be absolutely delighted with that, because I just think that’s really goes to the root philosophy behind the music, which is “be yourself, do your own thing.” I am truly a child of the 60’s. I grew up with the Beatles and the Byrds and Motown and Jimi Hendrix. I went to Prep School, so I was exposed to the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons, and at the same time in the other ear I was listening to Monk and Parker and Coltrane and Dizzy and Miles and Art and Max and all those cats, and I truly am…in the middle. One thing I can say for sure at this juncture of my career is that I’ve been doing my thing.

JJM: When you left the R & B business, there was a period where you didn’t play a lot, and then you got into jazz, and there was some pressure put upon you to do a tribute album right away….but, instead, you felt you had to learn the jazz business first, before doing something as serious as a tribute album.

TS: If I would have jumped in to do a tribute album in the beginning, it would have destroyed my career before I got out of the starting block, because then everybody would have indelibly tied me to my daddy, and then I would have had something that I never had in my entire life with this man, which is a shadow over me. People would say, “Oh man, that Monk, Jr. did a tribute record. Yeah, he does his fathers tunes. Look at all those superstars with him.” But then in the end, when its all said and done, people would have still been left with the question, “but what does Monk Jr. do?” So, I felt it was imperative that I establish myself first. I am going to do the best I can do, on the highest level I possibly can and if you dig me you do, and if you don’t, well, look….my father went for 30 years with everyone telling him he couldn’t even play the piano. Can’t even write a song! And he survived that, so…

JJM: You are a smart man. That takes an incredible amount of wisdom, and also a lot of patience because….

TS: All it takes, I think, is a little bit of guts, because it would have been easy to go the other way. It was such a clear, clearly defined path to go the other route, but when I though of all the people that went the other route, the Frank Sinatra Jr’s and all those people, I knew it wasnt for me. My father would kill me if I went that way. He would say, “What’s on your mind? What do you want to play? What kind of band do you want to lead?

JJM: When you decided to do this Monk on Monk tribute album, what was the first piece you imagined to be part of that?

TS: Oh, the music. I am very methodical in everything I do. The first thing was to figure out what music we felt we were going to play. Not the tunes themselves, but conceptually. I wanted to use something with vocals, I wanted to use his band records as the basic sound or the motif for the record. Once we did that, then the next important things were creating a pool of artists to choose from based on what we wanted them to do as opposed to simply who’s available. For instance, we picked a tune “Crepuscle with Nellie” and we said “what will make this unique?” Somebody to play a solo on it, because Thelonious never played a solo on that tune. Once we came to that conclusion and we figured out what we wanted to do with it, then we said, “Wayne Shorter would be the perfect soloist for that”. That was sort of the way we structured and put everything together. So, first it was picking the music, figuring out what we wanted to do with it. On “Little Rootie Tootie”, I said wanted to do it, but I want to do it differently. I want to do it big, I want to do it powerful, but I want to have a heavy drum emphasis and kind of a Latino feel to it and that’s why we end up opening that with Danilo Perez. Once I came to that conclusion, I had to figure out who we can get to come play…Do we get Danilo? Do we get Eddie Palmieri? What kind of Latin artist fits in that situation?

JJM: Now, Danilo was recording his own tribute album of sorts at the time, wasn’t he?

TS: He just finished it. We are good friends.

JJM: It’s a great CD!

TS: I love that PanaMonk record. That is one of the finest tribute albums ever made to Thelonious.

JJM: What is your favorite Monk tribute album?

TS: Right now, as a matter of fact, it is that Danilo Perez album. I just adore that. But, above and beyond that I am really crazy about the Jerry Gonzalez record called “Rumba Para Monk”. There was a record about 15 years ago by a guy named Hal Willner called “Thats the Way”, which is a tribute to Thelonious that is very interesting because it features a lineup of superstars..people like Dr. John and Peter Frampton and Jeff Beck mixed in with Charlie Rouse and Clark Terry and all these people…all kinds of wild arrangements. As for tributes, what Thelonious would like you to do is do your own thing, that’s why I love Danilo’s record, because he went his own direction with Thelonious Monk…he did all the things Thelonious might do with a composition….and the Hal Willner record addresses the issue of how far they go. You wouldn’t think that Peter Frampton listens to Thelonious Monk but he does.

JJM: Hal Willner did one on Charles Mingus also.

TS: Yes, he did the one on Mingus after he did the one on Monk.

JJM: The Kronos Quartet did some stuff on Monk…

TS: The Kronos Quartet has done some wonderful things and there is one that is up for a grammy this year by a dyed-in-the-wool, sort of Jerry Goldsmith type arranger….a real interesting record. It’s nominated for a Grammy.

JJM: Is that the Bill Holman record?

TS: Yes. Holman. That’s an interesting, very different sort of approach to Monk. When I started this project, I really didn’t think in terms of a tribute, but once I got into it, I looked around and noticed that just since last year it seems like an enormous number of tribute to Thelonious albums came out. It is very pleasing to have one that is considered to be one of the best…

JJM: When you assembled the tentet for tour, did you use the Town Hall Orchestra as a model?

TS: Absolutely. The Town Hall Orchestra and the Lincoln Center Orchestra. If I am correct for Town Hall, Thelonious used four brass and three reeds and Lincoln Center used four reeds and three brass and so we put the tentet together so we would have the ability to give you all those sounds.

JJM: Did you listen to that album a lot before putting the band together?

TS: No. I just listened to it my whole life!

JJM: That was a dumb question!

TS: I know “Little Rootie Tootie” is on that, and I familiarizing myself with the record. So that record and the Lincoln Center Concert, which I was there for…so both of those are part of my skin. They were definitely the motif from what I went from.

JJM: Needless to say, you did something right, because I just picked up the new Jazz Times the other day and I saw that a half dozen or so critics mentioned your album as one of the top five albums for 1997…

TS: I am so happy for my dad. And I am so happy for all the artists that participated in this thing, because I knew that if everybody came to do what they do best, and given Thelonious’ music, it would have to be very good…It would have far less to do with me and far more to do with the artists that participated, with Thelonious’ inspiration. Thelonious is the one that made everyone come in and want to do the right thing. He was the one that made everyone come in and not be concerned with where their solo is positioned and who is getting top billing, and all that stuff, and just get down to the issue of just playing Monk’s music right. Thelonious supplied the inspiration. This record is exactly what I wanted it to be. It is a tribute by 20 of the greatest living jazz artists, young and old. That means an awful lot. I am deligthed for him, that the critics now, who once said 35 years ago these songs weren’t even songs…so..it’s full circle, it’s really a tribute to the eternal nature of Thelonious’ music that it can sound so fresh, and so strong and be so inspirational in 1997.

JJM: It’s evergreen. I have this image of….250 years from now…..that, if there are indeed music stores, and who the hell knows if there will be, of some store in the Village or in, Toledo, Ohio and some guy is going to be spinning “Straight, No Chaser” or “Round Midnight” behind the counter.

TS: I am really delighted, because, like I said, my mother is still alive and she was there when nobody gave a damn…when the critics said he couldn’t play, and half the musicians said he couldn’t play and she believed in him, so for her to see this kind of response and watch his legend grow is really wonderful. The guy did me right. He was a good dad. I just feel very lucky, once again, to be associated with this man. Every way I have been associated with him has been good for me, and this is just him doing good for me again. It’s amazing how parents will do you for an entire lifetime, and some parents do for you while they’re gone.

JJM: He has done a lot for me also. He is responsible for a lot of goodness in my life. Monk’s music is life changing.

TS: I know. It’s amazing how this music is that way. It is very very powerful art form, and I think that’s why in the beginning there was such resistance from the establishment. The funny thing about jazz is it is the musical manifestation of the American ideal, and that’s why they were never able to sound it out because it addresses the issue of teamwork and the issue of individuality and the individual, spontaneity and the issue of creativity, and all those things are almost like icons to the American psyche.

JJM:. You can see where Madison Ave is starting to pick up on that also.

TS: Oh absolutely. The funny thing is that jazz was actually the bedrock for the entire television and movie industry from about the 1940s through the 70s.

TS: Oh absolutely. The funny thing is that jazz was actually the bedrock for the entire television and movie industry from about the 1940s through the 70s.

JJM: In fact, your father played with one of the biggest arrangers from that era, Oliver Nelson…

TS: Yes, and when you think about all the fantastic shows, and the series from the 60s and 70s, and who was writing the music, it was Lalo Schiffrin and Quincy Jones and Jerry Goldsmith and all these jazz people….Andre Previn. So, the music was bubbling under for so long. Right now, we’re in a period where America has grown a little bit and America has become very cognizant of what is American and I think that has had a lot to do with this new found respect for jazz and this new found cultural inclusion of jazz as part of the American cultural tapestry.

JJM: I have to ask one more question….One of my all time favorite album covers is “Monk’s Music” on Riverside where he’s sitting in the red wagon….

TS: My wagon.

JJM: That’s your wagon?

TS: My wagon. They gave it to me for Christmas. That was my Christmas present. That wagon…when my mother tells me what they had to go through to get that wagon…he had no money at that time and no food, and what he had to go through to get that wagon was fantastic….Then he took the wagon and they had gone through a whole lot of different things, and for some reason Thelonious had brought this red wagon along and at the end of the shoot they said “sit down in the wagon, let’s see what that looks like.” A timeless shot.

JJM: I wish I was a fly on the wall. That would have been just an amazing thing to see.

TS: Yes…..Good times….



T.S. Monk products at Amazon.com

Thelonious Monk products at Amazon.com








If you enjoyed this interview, you may want to read our interview with saxophonist Joshua Redman.



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In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Ornette Coleman: The Territory And The Adventure author Maria Golia discusses her compelling and rewarding book about the artist whose philosophy and the astounding, adventurous music he created served to continually challenge the skeptical status quo, and made him a guiding light of the artistic avant-garde throughout a career spanning seven decades.

Spring Poetry Collection

A Collection of Jazz Poetry – Spring, 2020 Edition There are many good and often powerful poems within this collection, one that has the potential for changing the shape of a reader’s universe during an impossibly trying time, particularly if the reader has a love of music. 33 poets from all over the globe contribute 47 poems. Expect to read of love, loss, memoir, worship, freedom, heartbreak and hope – all collected here, in the heart of this unsettling spring. (Featuring the art of Martel Chapman)

Publisher’s Notes

On taking a road trip during the time of COVID...


photo by Veryl Oakland
In this edition of photographs and stories from Veryl Oakland’s book Jazz in Available Light, Dexter Gordon, Art Farmer and Johnny Griffin are featured


A now timely 2002 interview with Tim Madigan, author of The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. My hope when I produced this interview was that it would shed some light on this little-known brutal massacre, and help understand the pain and anger so entrenched in the American story. Eighteen years later, that remains my hope. .


photo by John Vachon/Library of Congress
“Climate Change” — Ten poems in sequence by John Stupp

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time – the author Philip Clark writes about the origins of the book, and his interest in shining a light on how Brubeck, “thoughtful and sensitive as he was, had been changed as a musician and as a man by the troubled times through which he lived and during which he produced such optimistic, life-enhancing art.”


NBC Radio-photo by Ray Lee Jackson / Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, acclaimed biographer James Kaplan (Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman) talks about his book, Irving Berlin: New York Genius, and Berlin's unparalleled musical career and business success, his intense sense of family and patriotism during a complex and evolving time, and the artist's permanent cultural significance.

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Maria Golia’s Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure – excerpted here in its entirety – the author takes the reader through the four phases of the brilliant musician’s career her book focuses on.


Art by Charles Ingham
"Charles Ingham's Jazz Narratives" connect time, place, and subject in a way that ultimately allows the viewer a unique way of experiencing jazz history. This edition's narratives are "Nat King Cole: The Shadow of the Word," "Slain in Cold Blood" and "Local 767: The Black Musicians’ Union"


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Richard Crawford’s Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music is a rich, detailed and rewarding musical biography that describes Gershwin's work throughout every stage of his career. In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Crawford discusses his book and the man he has described as a “fresh voice of the Jazz Age” who “challenged Americans to rethink their assumptions about composition and performance, nationalism, cultural hierarchy, and the racial divide.”

Jazz History Quiz #140

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Although he had success as a bandleader in the 1930’s, he is best known for being manager of Harlem’s Minton’s Playhouse (where Thelonious Monk was the pianist) during the birth of bebop. Who was he?


photo unattributed/ Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with The Letters of Cole Porter co-author Dominic McHugh, he explains that “several of the big biographical tropes that we associate with Porter are either modified or contested by the letters,” and that “when you put together these letters, and add our quite extensive commentary between the letters, it creates a different picture of him.” Mr. McHugh discusses his book, and what the letters reveal about the life – in-and-out of music – of Cole Porter.


photo by Fred Price
Bob Hecht and Grover Sales host a previously unpublished 1985 interview with the late, great jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz, who talks about Miles, Kenton, Ornette, Tristano, and the art of improvisation...


photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Con Chapman, author of Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges discusses the great Ellington saxophonist


photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
"Louis Armstrong on the Moon," by Dig Wayne

Pressed for All Time

A&M Records/photo by Carol Friedman
In this edition, producer John Snyder recalls Sun Ra, and his 1990 Purple Night recording session


photo by Bouna Ndaiye
Interview with Gerald Horne, author of Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music

Great Encounters

photo of Sidney Bechet by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
In this edition of "Great Encounters," Con Chapman, author of Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, writes about Hodges’ early musical training, and the first meeting he had with Sidney Bechet, the influential and legendary reed player who Hodges called “tops in my book.”


The winter collection of poetry offers readers a look at the culture of jazz music through the imaginative writings of its 32 contributors. Within these 41 poems, writers express their deep connection to the music – and those who play it – in their own inventive and often philosophical language that communicates much, but especially love, sentiment, struggle, loss, and joy.

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

In the Previous Issue

Interviews with three outstanding, acclaimed writers and scholars who discuss their books on Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and their subjects’ lives in and out of music. These interviews – which each include photos and several full-length songs – provide readers easy access to an entertaining and enlightening learning experience about these three giants of American popular music.

In an Earlier Issue

photo by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Contributing writers

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