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Thelonious Monk - Straight No Chaser

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser (DVD)

Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser highlights the life of one of the most extraordinary individuals in the history of jazz. Using precious film footage shot in the late 1930s of the great pianist and composer, this film provides a special opportunity to savor the work of this one-of-a-kind musical revolutionary.

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This exemplary documentary about seminal jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk reaps the benefits of multiple blessings, including the skilled editorial hand of director Charlotte Zwerin and the patronage of executive producer (and erstwhile jazz pianist) Clint Eastwood. Most vital is the use of extensive 1968 footage, shot by Michael and Christian Blackwood, documenting the sometimes moody, sometimes puckish Monk in the studio, on tour, and off stage, which on its own would make this essential jazz viewing.

In post-World War II America, few cultural upheavals matched bebop for sheer exhilaration. Spawned by jazz musicians whose paydays typically came with larger swing ensembles, bop was as much bastard as stepchild, refining the technical ambitions of its parent while breaking free of swing's formalism to play fast and loose with harmony, melody, and tempo. That mercurial spirit made heroes of high-flying, technically flamboyant players like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell. Monk, by contrast, was as distinctive for his silences, crafting often skeletal melodies distinguished by unexpected, skewed harmonies. At one point dubbed the "high priest of bebop," he was more Zen archer, threading notes, warping chord structure, or stabbing "wrong" keys with a seeming looseness that in hindsight sounds as precise as haiku.

Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser provides an intelligent portrait of this often reclusive, sometimes difficult artist, including telling glimpses of his volatility. A stormy studio session with Teo Macero, then Columbia Records' preeminent jazz producer, speaks volumes about Monk's very private approach to his muse. Perceptive interviews and glimpses of Monk's sunnier moments provide added depth, yet the real triumph is the generous catalog of classic Monk songs captured on camera. --Sam Sutherland


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Product Details

  • Directors: Charlotte Zwerin
  • Producers: Charlotte Zwerin, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Ricker
  • Format: Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: May 23, 2006
  • Run Time: 90 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000053VC9
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,838 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Thelonious Monk - Straight No Chaser" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Fineberg on September 12, 2003
Format: DVD
So exclaims a frustrated Monk during a late 1960s Columbia recording session, after finishing a haunting run-through of "Ugly Beauty" and learning that producer Teo Macero neglected to record it. The movie is filled with wonderful private moments like these, though I can't say how much interest it will hold for those not familiar with Monk. For me, however, and for many others who are infatuated with him and his music, the footage in this documentary is gold. The character of Monk is rounded out for us, and we find that he was just as unique and strange in his life as he was in his music. He was truly in his own world, and though for 90 minutes we see him up close, with his musicians, with his wife Nellie, with the Baroness Nica, see his bizarre behavior backstage, at the airport, in the hotel, we are no closer to getting inside his head. For that, one simply needs to hear the music.
And the music collected in the movie is astonishing--An early television appearance where Monk is miffed by Count Basie staring at him across the piano during a performance...several shows with a quartet including Charlie Rouse...great footage of the big band sessions of the mid 60s, with Rouse, Johnny Griffin, and Phil Woods scrambling to learn the arrangements...and the great Columbia session, where Monk becomes visibly annoyed, but still has time for a wonderfully tender moment with pal Teo. There are interviews with Monk's managers, his son, Charlie Rouse, and a fine piano duet of "Well You Needn't" by Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris, reminding one and all that not only was Monk one of the most distinctive piano players in jazz, but that, along with Ellington and Charles Mingus, he was one of the most brilliant composers as well.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Mr. DS Graham on May 15, 2003
Format: DVD
"Straight No Chaser" offers an abundance of wonderful footage of Thelonious Monk in concert, in transit, at home, in rehearsal, eating, sleeping, spinning in circles, in the studio, signing autographs and of course creating magic at the keyboard. Watching this film is like watching the weather on any given day. At one moment it's cloudy and grey, the next sunny and blue and in between anything could happen, and does. Monk clearly had serious and long term mental health problems, but the music the man created is his real legacy and there is plenty of it here. Towards the end of the film Milt Jackson, Art Farmer, Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris try to work out the chord progression to one on Monk's songs and as things get more and more complex Milt Jackson (who played with Monk) simply smiles to himself with a combination of perplexity and amusement at the sheer genius of the music.
The excitement and sense of discovery one feels in witnessing this precious footage does become tempered by the lack of insight into the nature of his music and the full impact of it upon other musicians. The interviews are revealing, especially Harry Colomby (Monk's manager) and a visibly emotional TS Monk Jr. who with understandable difficulty recalls his father's mental problems. Ultimately though, the uniqueness of Thelonious Monk's music shines through. His television performance of "Just A Gigolo" about half way through is inspiringly honest, utterly sincere (even in it's sardonic humour) and completely absorbing.
Monk's most lasting musical legacy was probably his honesty as a musician and as a man, the rarest quality of all.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Andy Williamson on November 11, 2002
Format: DVD
Alas, pianist Thelonious Monk was unable to acquire chicken dumplins in Copenhagen during a tour stop. The room service waiter kindly offered him chicken salad. He also ordered mashed potatoes.
Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-1982) is generally credited with inventing what we call be-bop, that fiery brand of jazz that emerged post WW II with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and others. Be-bop sounded the death-knell of big band/swing like Glenn Miller and Woody Herman. Monk was there at the forefront although it would be years before he garnered the acceptance or credit he deserved. Bouts with mental illness also hampered Monk from time to time. He was hospitalized numerous times.
This DVD compiles FASCINATING black and white footage of Monk during his 1968 tour. We see Monk smoking, Monk talking and laughing, Monk recording, Monk yelling at Teo Macero ("Why can't nobody do what I tell 'em to do!" an exasperated Monk yells after learning that Macero-in the control booth-failed to record the song the group had just finished), Monk with his wife Nellie, Monk on the street, getting dressed, spinning in circles etc. This is truly amazing footage folks. If only we had such a visual document for every great jazz artist.
The dialogue is very interesting. Monk himself is often hard to understand, his words often seem to run together. But I was able to understand enough. There are interviews with musicians and managers and others. It is great to see Monk's main saxophonist, Charlie Rouse, commenting on his friend. In one of the highlights of the film we see Monk rehearsing his group prior to a London performance. It is awesome to watch Monk lead Rouse, Phil Woods, and Johnny Griffin (!) thru the chord and tempo changes. Wow.
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