Celebrating the idiosyncratic genius of Thelonious Monk, born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, on October 10, 1917.
In a remarkable 1963 appearance with Juilliard professor and friend, Hall Overton, at the New School in New York, Monk demonstrated his technique of “bending” or “curving” notes on the piano, the most rigidly tempered of instruments. He drawled notes like a human voice and blended them (playing notes C and C-sharp at the same time, for example) to create his own dialect. Overton told the audience, “That can’t be done on piano, but you just heard it.” He then explained that Monk achieved it by adjusting his finger pressure on the keys, the way baseball pitchers do to make a ball’s path bend, curve, or dip in flight.
The lounge’s changes reflect those of Trenton, which has been hit by deindustrialization, white flight, falling property values, a cratering tax base, budget cuts, and a drop in educational resources. There is probably a recovery formula for the rest of the city somewhere in the tiny fragment of an integrated, prospering populace that materializes for the Candlelight Saturday Sabbath with its transubstantiation of mouthpiece, breath, drum skin, string, and inner ear stereocilia into camaraderie.
Some people come to the old Jazzland amusement park by way of the service road off Interstate 510, bringing their cars directly onto the grounds. Before the city stepped up security, I once saw a blue Corvette and black Chevy S-10 pull up and proceed to chase each other at top speed around the central lagoon, then disappear to the far end of the abandoned park. But if you come on foot, it’s best to slip through the hole cut in the chain-link fence, picking your way through the broken glass and shards of scrap metal in the parking lot.
Jazz owes its origins to the bump and grind of turn-of-the-century brothels and the colored waif orphanages of the South’s great cities, but where is the wellspring of swing? Swing, children, begins with Fletcher Henderson, one of the great big band leaders for the ages.
All aesthetics arises from life and ends up going home to the world of art, no matter how or where it started, in the church or the counterfeit palace of pleasure known as the cathouse. What was understood by jazzmen like Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong was of such profound importance to jazz performance that it has continued to influence every solid approach to the music, regardless of style.