#TBT: 100 Years of Thelonious Monk

Jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Sphere Monk would have been 100 on October 10, so for this Throwback Thursday, let’s explore the his life and music.

Born in North Carolina but raised in Manhattan, Monk began playing the piano at 5 and went on to become one of the all-time greatest bebop jazz pianists and composers. His performance style included a combination of dissonance, pregnant pauses, banging keys and swift changes.

He cut albums with legendary record labels, including Blue Note, Prestige, Verve and Riverside, but experienced his greatest successes with Columbia Records. Monk all but retired from music in the 1970s and died in 1982. But his legacy lives on through his music.

Love music? Explore Music: The Beat of Our City with us through this year’s One Book, One Chicago selection I’ll Take You There.


If you’re not familiar with Monk’s work, check out the Thelonious Monk anthology from Ken Burns’ jazz series. It includes many of Monk’s most popular and well-known recordings, including “Misterioso,” “Blue Monk” and “Brilliant Corners.” 

I prefer performances Monk recorded in front of a live audience. One of my favorites is Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane At Carnegie Hall. Monk and Coltrane did not collaborate extensively, but this album captures two greats. The album was recorded in 1957, but only discovered in the Library of Congress archives in 2005.

If you enjoy this collaboration, you should also check out The complete 1957 Riverside recordings.


A notorious recluse, Monk did not like to talk about himself in interviews. Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of An American Original is an in-depth biography that offers a chance to get to know the man behind the music.

If you’re more interested in Monk’s contribution to jazz as a composer, his musical style and his influence on music, check out Monk by accomplished jazz pianist Laurent De Wilde.
or Thomas Fitterling’s Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music.

What’s your favorite song by Thelonious Monk?

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