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Straight, No Chaser: The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk Paperback – October 1, 1998

3.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Paperback, October 1, 1998
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The composer, pianist, and headgear eccentric Thelonious Monk is one of the few musicians whose touch can be recognized from almost any three-second sample of his work. Who else could have dreamed up the majestic oddity of "Round Midnight" or "Well, You Needn't" or "Ruby, My Dear" or "Pannonica"? Who else could have duplicated Monk's distinctive attack at the keyboard, with its clenched harmonies and rock-skipping runs? At least one major biography has been in the works for the last 20 years, but now Leslie Gourse--who has also written books about Sarah Vaughan and Nat King Cole--has put together a graceful, intelligent narrative. Straight, No Chaser is notably light on musicological analysis, and the author never quite delivers on her promised revelations about Monk's final decade (during which he withdrew into both musical and verbal silence). But Gourse has done some excellent spadework, interviewing Monk's family, musical associates, and longtime manager Harry Colomby; her preliminary portrait is a fine one. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A ramshackle biography of the legendary jazz innovator. Gourse (Madame Jazz, 1995, etc.) has researched Monk's life thoroughly, interviewing his surviving family members and musical cohorts, as well as combing the archives for contemporary profiles and reviews of his work. Sadly, however, there's insufficient narrative thread here to stitch together Gourse's assemblage of quotes. Monk grew up in New York City; by 1934, when he was 16, he had dropped out of school to devote his full attention to the piano. After touring the country with a gospel group, he returned to New York and began experimenting with his uniquely personal tonal and rhythmic language, often identified as the essential ammunition of the bebop revolution. While Monk profoundly influenced Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, it wasn't until the late '50s that his seminal gigs at Manhattan's Five Spot garnered him full public recognition as a musician and composer. He was equally famous for his eccentricities: Generally late for his performances, he often left the piano and danced around the stage, letting the ever-changing members of his quartet supply the music. In private, Monk was notoriously taciturn, and occasionally he would experience episodes of complete withdrawal that required his hospitalization. Gourse entertains the idle speculations of many nonexpert acquaintances about the causes of his behavior, but the conclusion she seems to support--possible extensive use of unspecified drugs, complicated by genius--is vague. And about Monk's music the author offers silly tautologies like, ``In the aggregate, his songs comprised an oeuvre, each a commentary on his unique universe of sound.'' The book's obvious title, already used for a Monk documentary, is a perfect tipoff that Gourse has little to say about her subject that is imaginative or useful. (photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Schirmer Trade Books; First Printing edition (October 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0028650328
  • ISBN-13: 978-0028650326
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,189,273 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book has gotten unjustified bad press. The author accurately captures the "real" T. Monk. She traces Monk's development and commitment to jazz over his career. The author had access to Monk's family (e.g., Toot his drummer son), friends, supporters, and the musicians that knew him. What I particularly like about the book was her treatment of Monk's mysterious pathology. Monk was a very strange guy. Various psychiatrists discounted him being schizophrenic and bipolar. The concensus was that he chemically ruined his brain over the years. He also cultivated an image of eccentricity. During the last six years of his life, he got up, put on a suit and tie (he was always sartorially snappy) and then laid in bed all day. This is a very good book and provided an insightful picture of this eccentric musical genius.
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A Kid's Review on August 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
Attention T.Monk fans! This book has lots of info on Monk. It is written in a very interesting way. Much of the info is from personal interviews, which means that there are many interesting and funny facts and stories. There are some great photographs of Monk with other jazz pioneers such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie etc. It also has a sessionography, index, list of compositions, and videography. A must read.
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Format: Paperback
Like all the books put together by this author (far too many), this alleged biography of Thelonious Monk is a shallow cut-and-paste mishmash sprinkled with clueless (sometimes senseless) observations that alone reveal a lack of perception. This silly book has no valid place on the shelf of jazz literature.
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