Monk at the Five Spot

 

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Thelonious Sphere Monk : October 10th, 1917 – February 17th, 1982

One of the regrets of my life [I’ve had a few] is that I never took the opportunity to see Thelonious Monk live; but in my novel, In a True Light, Sloane got to see him in my stead. Closest I got.

Sloane, skinny in Levis and a plaid short, has stood in line at the 5 Spot for the best part of an hour and missed most of the first set. Inside, the only seat he’s able to find squashes him close to several others right up against the stage.

Monk is wearing a pale jacket, loose across his shoulders – pale green – silver and grey striped tie knotted snug against the collar of his white shirt; dark hair neatly, recently trimmed; no hat tonight, no hat – this man who always wears a hat; goatee beard and moustache, dark glasses shielding his eyes. Fingers rolling a little, feeling for a rhythm in the bottom hand; rocking back upon the piano stool, then thrusting forward, elbows angled out, playing with his whole body. And the drummer, seated at Monk’s back, following each movement, listening to each new shift and shuffle, quick and careful as a hawk. Monk’s foot, his right foot, skewing wide and stomping down, punctuating the broken line as, stationed in the piano’s curve, the bassist, eyes closed, feels for an underlying pulse. And alongside him, head down, horn hooked over his shoulder, Coltrane, John Coltrane, focussed, biding his time.

Each night, the same riffs, the same themes torn this way and that – “Ruby, My Dear”, “Round Midnight”, “Blue Monk”. And that evening, Sloane rising awkwardly to let someone squeeze past, and hearing a shout from a table near the side wall – “Jane! Hey, Jane!” – turns his head in time to see a woman near the entrance, dark-haired and smiling at the sound of her name, time enough – just – to see she is beautiful, just how beautiful she is, before Monk launches himself along the keyboard in a clattering arpeggio which calls to mind a man stumbling headlong down a flight of stairs, never quite losing his balance, not falling but saving himself, miraculously, with an upward swoop and a final, ringing double-handed chord.
“I Mean You”. The 5 Spot, September, 1957: the first time Sloan laid eyes on Jane Graham.

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