REMEMBERING MONK’S BIRTHDAY …

October 10th, 1917; Rocky Mount, North Carolina, USA

MONK AT THE FIVE SPOT 

They’ve all been here to see him: Ginsburg,
Mailer; poets, painters, other musicians;
Larry Rivers and his crowd
jammed into a table at the back,
Frank O’Hara in earnest conversation,
oblivious of the fact that Monk,
dark glasses shielding his eyes,
is starting to rock back and forth
at the piano, feeling for a rhythm 
in the bottom hand, while the right 
finds angles of its own …

Blue Monk, ‘Round Midnight,
Epistrophy; Ruby, My Dear.

And all this time, head down, horn hooked
over his shoulder, John Coltrane waits,
biding his time, as Monk launches himself
into a jinking solo, which skips and leaps
and builds into an angular arpeggio
that calls to mind a man stumbling headlong 
down a flight of stairs, never quite losing his balance, 
not falling but saving himself with an upward swoop 
and final double-handed chord, 
so sudden, so emphatic, that the crowd, 
almost as one, catches its breath 
and even Frank O’Hara is stunned into silence.

I Mean You. The 5 Spot, New York City,
September, 1957

  • from ‘Aslant‘, Shoestring Press, 2019 (Revised)
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Author: John Harvey

Writer.

2 thoughts on “REMEMBERING MONK’S BIRTHDAY …”

  1. Is there any better distillation of Monk’s art than his version of ‘This is my story, this is my song’ which I first heard on the double LP (in old money) ‘Always Know’ compilation? Barely 90 seconds long yet it says it all…

  2. Perhaps not quite all, in that there’s something at the heart of Monk’s music which, to me anyway, remains unfathomable – familiar but unfathomable – though, having said that, ‘This Is My Story’ has always been one of my favourite of his shorter solo pieces.

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