chasing Thelonious Monk mystery
His masterpieces – Around midnight (1944), Straight No Chaser (1951) or The Blue Monk (1954) – such are the restless journeys between blues and dizzying be-bop improvisations. Who do we hear first? His deceptively clumsy touch, sometimes dissonant, but also percussive, which he accompanied with an intriguing growl? The terribly human side of this eruptive game, with its share of randomness? To each his own answer… But today, beyond his music, it is another magnet that drives the mystery of Monk forty years after his disappearance, his inexhaustible psychiatric abyss: schizophrenic, bipolar, autistic.
Monk is Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, halfway between demon and god. In 1958, in front of the eyes of his protector, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, he received a blow with a baton from which he sustained the effects, until he remained dazed, sleepless for hours, walled in the secret of such a dark soul. and as impenetrable as Tutankhamun’s tomb. In 1988, an aesthetic film by documentary filmmaker Charlotte Zwerin (Straight No Chaser), produced by jazz fan Clint Eastwood, attempted to delve into the horrors of wonder. Laurent de Wilde dedicated one of the most beautiful musical biographies ever written to him. In the Seghers collection, he tells how coincidence led him to become interested in this jazz tightrope walker on the edge of the void. Today, The mysterious monk reconstructs with intense joy the dazzling puzzle of the icon, through the writings he inspired, songs, essays, testimonies, from the musicians who played with him (Coltrane, Gillespie, etc.) to the following generations (Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano….) .
Proust’s Madeleine for jazz
Under the baton of this extraordinary work of large format, Franck Médioni searched magazines, books, unearthing this lyrical meditation published in the magazine Esquire 1997, under the pen of John Edgar Wideman: the most boppy of the great American novelists remembers a stay in Paris, in a boarding house. The rain blows off the tin roof. In search of sleep, he is reading a book about the painful love of Rimbaud and Verlaine, when in the middle of the night he hears a piece by Monk through the walls. The notes of the great pianist seem like Proust’s madeleine. Memories and images overwhelm Wideman, the assassination of the singer Sam Cooke, the James Brown concert wrapped in his bright and painful cape, the appearance at dawn of Monk leaving the set tired. This beautiful text floats in the heart of poetic and complex prose.
Each story sheds a different light on the suffering artist who circled his piano like a caged lion. “Monk has an incredible sense of gag, and all his records are full of humor”, says pianist Bill Evans, who popularized his idol’s repertoire. The book is full of amusing anecdotes, like this memory he brought back to Médioni. When blind pianist George Shearing enters the room where Monk is playing, he says: “I’ll be back when the piano tuning is done. » If this sentence brings the genius out of his marble, it testifies to the difficulty Monk had in making himself hear this impetuous music which he knew so well to embody.
Because the second merit of this beautiful book is to show us that this great pianist was also a picturesque character, with his kuffas, thick ringed hands and unique position in front of the keyboard. Along with the magnificent photographs of Jean-Pierre Leloir, Guy Le Querrec and Robert Polillo, there are drawings by the talented brush of the 20th century, Cabu (an opportunity to remind ourselves that the cartoonist from Charlie Hebdo killed in 2015 was a sympathetic musical portrait painter), Mezzo with a smoky atmosphere shrouded in wisps of smoke, or Loustal. In an airy and sumptuous arrangement, these illustrations superbly adorn a work to which we have not returned to the end. Around midnight, e.g.
The mysterious monk under the direction of Franck Médioni, Seghers, 359 pp., €42.