Monk is foremost a composer, then a pianist. His 1965 album, “Solo Monk,” demonstrates this as a simple piano-only jazz album that still manages to feel complete and diverse. But that’s not to take away from his playing, as he developed an angular style that allowed him to play the roots of the chords he wanted in ways others couldn’t. Each track feels emotional and cinematic, much like a piece of classical music. It’s pure Monk, through and through.
When people talk about music, they often point toward a few great characters who changed everything all on their own. But the reality is often stranger and more complicated than even a handful of great people. Thelonious Monk was one of those shadow characters who impacted jazz’s modern age as strongly as Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis but never got the mainstream credit. The jazz pianist and composer was an early creator of bebop which dominated post-war jazz but would remain largely invisible until collaborating with John Coltrane. He popularized harmonic techniques that avant-garde jazz would become known for in the ‘60s and onwards. He finally received serious recognition by the early ‘60s as one of the most influential jazz composers of the century.