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Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 6, 2009


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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (October 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684831902
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684831909
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 6.6 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #605,352 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Review

Thoroughly researched, meticulously footnoted, and beautifully crafted, "Thelonious Monk'' presents the most complete, most revealing portrait ever assembled of the man known as the high priest of bebop.
--Steve Greenlee, Boston Globe

I doubt there will be a biography anytime soon that is as textured, thorough and knowing. . . The "genius of modern music" has gotten the passionate, and compassionate, advocate he deserves. --August Kleinzahler, New York Times Book Review

If every icon deserves at least one definitive bio, it's official: Monk now has his. --K. Leander Williams, Time Out Magazine

This exhaustively researched work will undoubtedly now remain the definitive work on Monk, a rebel with a cause. --Steve Heilig, San Francisco Chronicle

This affectionate biography fills in the fascinating and heart-wrenching backstory of an artist the world has always longed to know better.
--John Kehe, Christian Science Monitor

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.

Customer Reviews

Not only his music,but an in-depth look at the person behind the music.
Stuart Jefferson
If you're interested in jazz, post war urban American history or just enjoy reading well written biographies...buy this book.
a musician
This is the place to start if you really want to know as much about Monk as possible.
Todd M. Steed

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

138 of 145 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Jefferson TOP 100 REVIEWER on October 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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 ›
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62 of 64 people found the following review helpful By a musician on October 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you're interested in jazz, post war urban American history or just enjoy reading well written biographies...buy 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".
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A. Panemangalore on November 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By William E. Adams on March 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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 ›
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