Tribute To Thelonious Sphere Monk

Having been blessed to meet and play with some of the master musicians of the Jazz world, no one impressed me more than the Iconic Thelonious Monk. It was back in 1968 or 1969 when my friends, Charles and Benetta Bines called me and told me that their Uncle Monk was performing at the Blue Coronet in Brooklyn, New York. 

At that time Brooklyn was the hub of some of the most celebrated Jazz clubs in New York City, if not the country. Today that distinction is possibly reoccurring. Many of the Jazz artist who performed at these clubs are featured on video's located on various pages on this web site  I have met some of the Who's Who of the Jazz world at the Coronet, and other ventues such as Miles Davis, Art Taylor, Jimmy Smith, Art Blakey, my good friends James Spaulding, Doc Russell, Bill Green, Ed Wallace, Bobby Hamilton, Kenny Rivers,Bill Pecker,Scott Frazier,Lawrence Thomas,Nat Watson,Ernest Bedford,James Blake,Vernon Grant,Galib Abdullah,Ray Vega,David Russell,Eric Lemon,Suliman Hakim,Eric Frazier,Ed Stout,Danny Mixon,Mark Meridith,Richard Green, Neal Clark, Randy Weston, Ed Stout,Carla Cook, Tyrone Jefferson, also meeting Connie Kay, Eddie Pamarie, Ray Barretto, Freddie Hubbard, Price Givens, Roy Ayers, Big Nick Nicholas, Betty Carter,Milt Jackson, Clark Terry,Wynton Marsalis, Bradford Marsalis,Regina Carter, Jon Hendricks, Dakota Staton, and others. But it was Monk who without so much as just looking up at me when Benetta, known affectionately as Teeny among family and friends, introduced me to him, that made an unforgettable impression. I was so much in awe and was satisfied to just get a nod from him as he was about to get on stage to perform. 

It was a year later that I had the pleasure of meeting the rest of the family at Monks home to celebrate what I believe was his birthday. That's when I had the pleasure of meeting Monk's wife Nellie, his son Toot ( T.S.Monk ), his daughter Bo Bo ( Barbara) and other family members.

 As one who grew up as a young boy experiencing Jazz (African rhythms ) in Harlem, it was my step father who first took me to jazz concerts at the Apollo theatre and introduced me to famous Jazz musicians who came to Thompson's barber shop on 124th street and  where he worked. He was a favorite with those who wanted a marcel , which amounted to having their hair conked or straightened with a concoction of which the main ingredient was lye. which was popular during that period.

Chris Rock's movie hair could have devoted at least another half hour just on that piece about African American men and hair. I would be remiss, if I did not comment how I my contemporaries  where influenced by  Monk, Miles and other Jazz artists who developed an sophisticated presence of dress and style, that was cultivated by their gigs and travels to Africa,Europe and other parts of the world.  We even went to school emulating their dress style, along with taking Jazz albums to share the vibrant colors of art ,pictures and the liner notes. 

Later the Jazz  idiom known as Be Bop, was introduced to me while growing up in a boarding school/group home, I  vicariously adopted the performers as my distant spiritual aunts and uncles. Needless to say, Monk represented one the first elder Jazz uncle's in my life. 

There are those in your life who are friends along with their family,that you may not see all the time, day in and day out, but when you do, its always enjoyable quality time. That's why its clear to me that the most high and the ancestors made the arrangement for Charles and Benetta to come into my life as one of my view friends, to assist me in my musical, intellectual and spiritual life journey..

The last time Benetta called me to see her dear uncle was to be an honorary pall bearer for his funeral at St Peters Church in New York. I could not have been more honored.

The internationally known Jazz Ministry at Saint Peter’s Church is a home for diverse individuals and communities which celebrates the dignity and vitality of jazz, provides vibrant worship and pastoral care.

I am forever grateful to have been some small part of the history of the greatest art form produced by America, and to be able to provide a vehicle to perpetuate its rich legacy.

Wesley Gray

Tribute to Two Greats: Freddie Hubbard and one of the great living masters of the Saxaphone, James Spaulding
The great James Spaulding
" Decent countries are made, not born.  While atonement, personnal responsibility, and self- transformation are vitally important to our collective spiritual well-being, political struggles do matter. By political struggle I do not mean simply registering voters and selecting canditates. I am referring to a social movement with a radical democratic vision, a way of imagining and remaking the world in a matter we have never seen."- Robin D.C. Kelly, black scholar 

Please click on the URL below for an excerpt of a just released biography on Monk's life.
 Excerpted from Thelonious Monk by Robin Kelley Copyright © 2009 by Robin D. G. Kelley. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved.