Start reading Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original on the free Kindle Reading App or on your Kindle in under a minute. Don't have a Kindle? Get your Kindle here.

Deliver to your Kindle or other device

Enter a promotion code
or gift card

Try it free

Sample the beginning of this book for free

Deliver to your Kindle or other device

Sorry, this item is not available in
Image not available for
Image not available

To view this video download Flash Player


Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original [Kindle Edition]

Robin DG Kelley
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)

Digital List Price: $8.74 What's this?
Print List Price: $20.00
Kindle Price: $7.49
You Save: $12.51 (63%)

Free Kindle Reading App Anybody can read Kindle books—even without a Kindle device—with the FREE Kindle app for smartphones, tablets and computers.

To get the free app, enter your email address or mobile phone number.

Best Books of the Year
Best Books of 2014
Looking for something great to read? Browse our editors' picks for 2014's Best Books of the Year in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.

Book Description

With his trademark goatee, dark glasses, and hat, Thelonious Monk is an image of coolness. Jazz fans revere Monk for his groundbreaking compositions and piano playing from the 1950s and 1960s, but to a wider audience he stands for something much bigger: the idea of native genius; a quirky, absent-minded, unalloyed originality that is the perfect symbol of the undefinable essence of jazz. The man behind the mystique is now more interesting and edifying, thanks to extraordinary, unprecedented access to Monk's closest friends and family, his private papers, and hours of audiotapes of Monk himself. Monk's musical and cultural education blended together the key strands of African-American music traditions: from church hymns, to ecstatic stomping and call-and-response, to the blues. When he put it together with the Kansas City and New York dancehall music of swing, he reached a cultural apex unlike anyone before or after him. A husband and father, Monk moved in with an aristocratic Dutch hipster known as 'the Jazz Baroness,' a key, strange patron of modern jazz. He continued to compose subtle, deceptively simple-sounding classics, while descending into depression and erratic behaviour. A once-energetic, joking, handsome young man grew into a tortured artist, and the Monk mystique took hold. Now Kelly reveals that this talented musician was in fact a much more complex and interesting figure than his image would suggest. A fascinating biography, not just for Monk and jazz fans, but for those interested in the fragile spirit of human nature.

Videos Related to This Product

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Elusive, mysterious, strange, eccentric, weird, genius—the legend of jazz pianist Thelonious Monk began early in his career, propagated by supporters and detractors in equal measure. Kelley (Race Rebels) breaks down the mythology, taking great pains to establish, for example, that Monk, far from being an untutored savant, was intimately familiar with classical and popular music. Every step of Monk's musical journey is teased out in meticulous detail, from his childhood piano lessons to his groundbreaking half-year run headlining at New York's Five Spot, along with behind-the-scenes stories from the recording sessions for classic albums like Brilliant Corners and Monk's Music. Kelley also explains Monk's most notorious behaviors—stony silences when confronted in public, exuberant dancing during concerts—as the outward signs of a bipolar disorder that went unrecognized for much of his life, with immeasurable impact on his career. (He was often unable to even play in New York jazz clubs because his reputation precluded him from getting a work license from city authorities.) Sometimes, the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming, but whether he's charting the highs or lows of Monk's emotional swings, Kelley rarely strays from his central theme of an extraordinary talent pushing against the boundaries of his art. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Robin Kelley's new biography Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original is a breath of fresh air among the biographies of our legendary jazz musicians. This book is thorough, detailed, and written with a true affinity for Monk's humaneness and creative musical output. It fills in the missing pieces about the growth of the jazz scene in New York through the forties, fifties, and sixties, detailing each step of Monk's development -- who passed through his bands, what gigs he played, and what happened on those scenes. It's an invaluable and close look at the center of the world's most important creative musical developments in those decades: New York City." -- CHICK COREA

"Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original is one of the most anticipated books in jazz scholarship, and well worth the wait. Robin D. G. Kelley represents one of this generation's most important voices equipped with the knowledge, passion, and respect for both jazz and jazz musicians required to interpret the many details and nuances of Thelonious Monk's life. This compelling book will both challenge old assumptions and inspire new assessments of the life and legacy one of the world's greatest musicians." -- GERI ALLEN, pianist, composer, and Associate Professor of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation, University of Michigan

"Powerful, enraging, and enduring.... In Robin Kelley's finely grained and surely definitive lifeand-times study, Thelonious Monk, an American original, has found an original biographer." -- DAVID LEVERING LEWIS, biographer of W. E. B. Du Bois and Pulitzer Prize winner

"An honest and eloquent treatment of one of our most important artists, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original is a stunning tour de force! It is the most comprehensive treatment of Monk's life to date. Furthermore, in Monk's story, Kelley has found the perfect medium to shed light on a nation's, and a people's, history and persistent quest for freedom. In so doing he has given us a book that is as bold, brilliant, and beautiful as Monk and his music." -- FARAH JASMINE GRIFFIN, author of If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday

"Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original provides valuable context for Monk’s musicianship — his dissonant harmonies helped usher in bebop — and for his personal demons." --The New York Times Book Review Paperback Row

Product Details

  • File Size: 3275 KB
  • Print Length: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Aurum Press (August 1, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00EV064U0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,519 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
  •  Would you like to give feedback on images?

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
143 of 151 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FINE IN DEPTH LOOK AT MONK'S LIFE AND MUSIC October 7, 2009
588 pages,including acknowledgments,appendices,notes,and compositions by Monk. This adds up to 129 pages out of the total. The paper used is a cream-white,and the the type-face is straight forward,clean and,together,make for an easy read. There are 16 pages of black and white photographs,starting with Monk's parents,on through his family,and several of Monk playing on the bandstand. These are a valuable addition,and give some depth to the writing.

This is an important book on Thelonious Monk. Not only his music,but an in-depth look at the person behind the music. The author,Robin Kelley,delved into Monk's life for ten years,with access to family papers and private recordings. In doing so Kelley has produced the first book to accurately portray what made Monk "tick". Many books talk about Monk the "hipster",the jazz player who wore hats (believe it or not,this was thought to be important) not in keeping with the current fashion of the day,the outspoken man who most deemed overly critical,and,an eccentric. Was Monk temperamental? Absolutely. Did he act in ways outside "normal" behavior? Yes. Was Monk a true eccentric? Probably most certain. But in this well written book the author digs deeply into Monk's life,starting with his upbringing,his family ties and influence,his early life,jail,and his mental and physical disorders,his one true love in life,Nellie,and his many friends (Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter for example),and associates in the music world.

This book shows why Monk--was Monk. His mother's encouragement to follow his own path,early in Monk's life,set him on his own individual path.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
67 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monk in perspective October 28, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you're interested in jazz, post war urban American history or just enjoy reading well written this book. Deftly written, extremely well researched and highly readable this book is a great acheivemment.

Being a professional musician I have read many music bios (jazz and otherwise) and this ranks among the best. Robin Kelley clearly has a love for his subject and as an amateur pianist he writes intelligently about Monk and his music. But don't expect this book to be an academic bore. His detailed account of Monk, his circle of musician friends and the clubs he played made me feel like I was there. I could smell the cigarette smoke and hear the jam sessions at Minton's and feel the atmosphere of the San Juan Hill neighborhood where Monk grew up and lived for so many years. You'll find yourself in the back of a TV repair shop where pianists (known and unknown) jammed and shared ideas and eavesdrop on rehearsals at Monks apartment and Hall Overton's loft...and so much more.

Kelley had unprecedented access to the Monk family archives and in every step of the book it shows. But more importantly Kelley is a great writer that weaves the details into a saga of post war African American life. Perhaps most importantly, Kelley debunks the myth of Monk as some sort of idiot savant or "noble savage" that inherited his genius by osmosis. Monk worked damn hard to create his art and Kelly takes you along every step of the way. Poignant, funny, sad and triumphant this book's got it all covered. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

"Two is one and one is two".
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monk- A labor of love November 17, 2009
I approached this book with trepidation..there have been so many bios of Monk,Trane,Miles...and the 700 page hardbound looked a fearsome mix of dry research and lofty pronouncements. My scepticism rapidly gave way to ceaseless absorption as I devoured the pages..Not since Ross Russell's 'Bird Lives' have I torn though a biography of an artiste one has revered over the decades
Painstakingly researched and passionately written with a strong story line,"Monk" grips the reader from start to finish.The author gets behind the Monk character and psyche to portray what made him tick,how did he think and what went behind the man whose compositions and playing style continue to captivate millions even today as it confused thousands during his time.One lives and breathes each scene as you sit along with Monk as he relentlessly composes each of his tunes, rehearses with his sidemen and makes his recordings.

You are with him and the other greats at his gigs at Mintons, Five Spot, the 52nd Street clubs, Newport and all of Europe You are by his side as he scuffles and suffers poverty,house fires,mental illness,ridicule by critics and social ostracization....before gaining recognition.. You come within talking and breathing distance of Diz, Bird,Coltrane,Miles,Charlie Rouse,Bud Powell,Elmo Hope, and so many more that one has heard and read about.... its unbelievably realistic...
If you are a jazz person, this book has to be by your bedside, not just on your shelf
Was this review helpful to you?
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
a "Reader's Digest Condensed" version so that casual fans can learn the essentials about Monk's life and career, without having to invest a month in reading all the details of his daily life presented here. The book is a good thing...but too much of a good thing for lovers of Monk's albums who are neither musicians nor historians of black life in the early 20th century. It's not just Monk's genealogy that gets into print, but that of his wife and some of his friends. We don't get a brief background of his major sidemen, we get extensive histories of some, and some history on almost everyone who ever played with Monk, even for a single outing. In addition, the history of NYC jazz clubs is detailed. I love Monk's music and I was glad I struggled through this massive work, and met Thelonious the real person, who loved his family, struggled against poorly understood manic depression, dabbled in hard drugs without becoming addicted, and was broke until about the last ten years of his long career. For decades, he got paying music work too seldom, then he hit a stretch in which he perhaps worked too much. For decades, he got too little attention from record buyers and club owners in spite of his innovations at the keyboard. I started my jazz listening as a teen, afraid of Monk. That was 50 years ago, and Brubeck, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and George Shearing were all I could handle, being a square white kid with little money or life experience. I actually did not own a Monk album until ten years ago. Since then, I've owned ten or more, and he is the one jazz pianist who gets extensive repeat listening from me. Yes, he played the same 20 original tunes over and over with different size groups, different instrumentation, at different lengths, and when he was in different moods... Read more ›
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Jazz and a lot of history
Extremely well researched and written. Easy to read yet very informative.
Published 7 days ago by John
5.0 out of 5 stars very enjoyable page turner
This must have been crazy hard to run down all these facts, stories, and sketches of Monk and his world. It makes this genius of modern jazz more understandable and accessible. Read more
Published 16 days ago by tim wire
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A Jazz lovers information on one of the idols of the music. Monk was his own Man.
Published 18 days ago by James C. Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
You can't keep a good Jazz musician down....
Published 27 days ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, incredibly well researched, this book deals ...
Well written, incredibly well researched, this book deals with music family, community, and the social realities facing a black man in the US
Published 1 month ago by Shawn P Gargagliano
5.0 out of 5 stars If You Are A Jazz Fan Don't Miss This Book
A detailed thorough look at the life of a Jazz Icon.
Published 1 month ago by Richard O. Hahn
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Quality recordings at an outstanding price.
Published 1 month ago by William Gowers
5.0 out of 5 stars Straight Ahead, No Chaser
A thorough work about a gifted musician that influenced the jazz scene for years to come. Hopefully more people will learn about this jazz giant.
Published 1 month ago by The K Man
5.0 out of 5 stars Best jazz biography I have ever read
Best jazz biography I have ever read. He gets beneath the surface impressions to acquaint us with the real Monk. Fascinating.
Published 2 months ago by J. Pincus
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a highly detailed bio of Thelonious Monk. ...
This is a highly detailed bio of Thelonious Monk. I had not, previously, been familiar with Monk's musical works. Read more
Published 2 months ago by planosue
Search Customer Reviews
Search these reviews only

More About the Author

Robin D. G. Kelley never met Thelonious Monk, but he grew up with his music. Born in 1962, he spent his formative years in Harlem in a household and a city saturated with modern jazz. As a child he took a few trumpet lessons with the legendary Jimmy Owens, played French horn in junior high school, and picked up piano during his teen years in California. In 1987, Kelley earned his PhD in History from UCLA and focused his work on social movements, politics and culture--although music remained his passion.

During his tenure on the faculties of Emory University, the University of Michigan, New York University, and Columbia University, Kelley's scholarly interests shifted increasingly toward music. He has written widely on jazz, hip hop, electronic music, musicians' unions and technological displacement, and social and political movements more broadly.

Before becoming Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, Robin D. G. Kelley served on the faculty at Columbia University's Center for Jazz Studies, where he held the first Louis Armstrong Chair in Jazz Studies. Besides Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Kelley has authored several prize-winning books, including Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (University of North Carolina Press, 1990); Race Rebels: Culture Politics and the Black Working Class (The Free Press, 1994); Yo' Mama's DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (Beacon Press, 1997), which was selected one of the top ten books of 1998 by the Village Voice. He is currently completing Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (Harvard University Press, forthcoming 2011), and a general survey of African American history co-authored with Tera Hunter and Earl Lewis to be published by Norton.

Kelley's essays have appeared in several anthologies and journals, including The Nation, Monthly Review, The Voice Literary Supplement, New York Times (Arts and Leisure), New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Color Lines, Code Magazine, Utne Reader, Lenox Avenue, African Studies Review, Black Music Research Journal, Callaloo, New Politics, Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noir, One World, Social Text, Metropolis, American Visions, Boston Review, Fashion Theory, American Historical Review, Journal of American History, New Labor Forum, Souls, Metropolis, and frieze: contemporary art and culture, to name a few.

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?


There are no discussions about this product yet.
Be the first to discuss this product with the community.
Start a new discussion
First post:
Prompts for sign-in

Look for Similar Items by Category