Thelonious Monk, born October 10, 1917, is the second most recorded jazz composer of all time, with over 70 songs to his credit. Monk first signed a contract with Riverside Records, and later with Columbia Records. He rose to prominence while at Columbia Records, where he remained until the middle of the 1970s. Monk’s jazz career came to an end at that point because his ability to write and play new music was forever hampered by his mental disorder. Nevertheless, he is still regarded as the greatest jazz musician of all time and has received the Pulitzer Prize Special Citation and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously.
Thelonious Sphere Monk
The High Priest of Bebop
October 10, 1917
February 17, 1982 (age 64)
Thelonious Monk was a pivotal figure in the jazz movement of the early 1940s. Monk’s distinct piano approach and skill as a composer established him as a pioneer in the creation of modern jazz. Monk was born in North Carolina on October 10, 1917. His parents were Thelonious and Barbara Monk. Monk’s family relocated to Manhattan, New York City when he was only four years old. Monk started to play piano at six, learning just by observing his sister playing the instrument. He attended the Juilliard School of Music to study theoretical music due to his great musical inclination. He began playing in the house band at Harlem’s Minton’s Playhouse in 1941 and later contributed to the creation of the Bebop jazz school.
At the start of his professional career, Monk performed at jazz performances, sang in jazz bars, and played with small groups. As soon as his potential was noticed, Riverside Records signed him, which eventually led to a recording contract with Columbia Records. Monk gained commercial success soon after. Both critics and listeners praised his 1963 album “Monk’s Dream.” He was one of the few jazz musicians to appear on the cover of “Time” magazine. Monk, who was one of the legends of American jazz music, won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. He also received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize Special Citation in 2006.
Monk wed Nellie Smith in 1947. They had two children, Barbara Monk, and T. S. Monk. Monk’s mental health began to deteriorate in the 1960s, and by the middle of the 1970s, his mental illness had made him a hermit and a loner. Despite being given lithium and antipsychotic medications, his mental instability remained unchanged. He passed away on February 17, 1982, from a stroke and was laid to rest in New York.
Monk records his debut songs with Ornette Coleman, a notable jazz artist who aids Monk in realizing his potential.
Monk performs at the Festival and records his debut solo album for “Vogue” during his stay in Europe.
Monk joins Columbia Records after his connection with Riverside is strained due to royalty payment concerns.
Monk passes away from a stroke while residing with his lifelong friend and supporter, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter.
Monk receives the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for being one of the titans of American jazz music posthumously.
Monk receives the Pulitzer Prize Special Citation award posthumously.
Why We Love Thelonious Monk
His piano style was unique
Monk is renowned for his distinctive piano playing. He occasionally flattened his fingers and utilized his elbows and forearms to create the desired tone.
He composed distinguished and innovative music
Monk received a special Pulitzer Award for his remarkable and original musical composition. His music style had a major and enduring effect on the growth of jazz.
Monk was a pioneer in Jazz
Monk was one of five jazz performers ever to grace the cover of “Time” magazine. The other Jazz musicians are Wynton Marsalis, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, and Louis Armstrong.
5 Surprising Facts
Monk suffered from a mental disorder
Monk's jazz career came to an end due to his mental illness, which eclipsed his ability to produce new music and perform.
He was banned at Apollo Theater
Monk won the renowned weekly amateur music competitions at the Apollo Theater so frequently that he was finally prohibited from participating!
He loved ping pong
Monk had a love for ping pong since childhood.
He played piano with his elbows
Monk occasionally played the piano with his elbows to get the tone he desired.
He never spoke to his audience
Monk seldom addressed his audience, preferring to let his music speak for itself.
Thelonious Monk FAQs
Who was Thelonious Monk's wife?
He was married to Nellie Smith.
Where did Thelonius Monk grow up?
He grew up in New York City.
Is Thelonious Monk alive?
He died on February 17, 1982.
Thelonious Monk’s birthday dates