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Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original

This affectionate biography of Theolonius Monk fills in the backstory of an artist the world has long wished to know better.

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Miles Davis made more money. Duke Ellington was more prolific. CharlieParker was more revered. But no one had a more profound impact on modern jazz than Thelonious Monk. The legendary pianist/composer with the strange hats and even stranger moniker (his given name) has finally become the subject of the kind of meticulously researched biography that lesser lights were afforded long ago. The enigmatic Monk is a tough nut to crack, to be sure, but what fascinating and delicious rewards await inside Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Robin D.G. Kelley’s illuminating biography.

Who knew, for instance, that the godfather of bebop‚ was a devoted family man, loving husband, and diaper-changing, doting father who lived in the same modest Manhattan apartment for a half century? Or that the pianist whose playing style was ravaged by critics for being “dissonant‚ unschooled‚ and primitive‚“ was in fact well-schooled in classical music at a young age and could play many difficult pieces from memory? But his real passion was kindled by the kind of jazz he heard as a teen, wafting through the halls and open windows of his San Juan Hill neighborhood, a densely populated melting pot of black and Caribbean transplants.

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