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Monk's Heirs

This article is more than 10 years old.

Our show today about the life and times of Thelonious Monk had us peering into the jazz world to look for the children of the "George Washington of be-bop." Who are Monk's musical and spiritual heirs?

Producer John Comerford, who appeared on our show this year to talk about his film "Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense," suggested before the show that we might look to contemporary pianists Matthew Shipp, Vijay Iyer, or Jason Moran to talk about the Monk legacy. (John's project is still rolling along; check it out at the "Icons Among Us" Facebook page.)

Shipp indeed made an appearance on our Monk segment, with biographer Robin Kelley.

Here's Shipp grooving in person:

A pianist who has pushed the boundaries of jazz — much as Monk did in his day — Shipp told host Tom Ashbrook that the Monk legacy endures:

I'm like a third or fourth generation of pianists that was really touched by Monk's discipline, his belief in himself, and just the humanness in his music. I mean his music is obviously an Afro-American ... jazz music. But at the same time, he has just such an open mind, that he takes in everything ... and brings it into his own idiom, where he kind of really discovered the essence of what makes him work as a composer and a pianist. And he was able to just really develop this music that was his vision. So I think that type of thing has really influenced me and other pianists.  

Shipp said Monk's first generation of heirs includes musicians like Randy Weston, Mal Waldron, and Cecil Taylor. He also mentioned later players, like Anthony Davis and Moran. "The figure of Monk is just a pervasive, pervasive figure," Shipp said during our show, "...Monk offers an infinity of responses."

At the end of his book, Kelley also plugs Shipp, Iyer, Moran, and Davis, in addition to Jessica Williams, Marcus Roberts, Danilo Perez, Gonzalo Rublcaba, and Fred Hersch. He writes in his book that those musicians are "just a fraction of the post-Monk generation of pianists/composers whose ideas have been profoundly shaped by a serious engagement with Monk's music."

Moran is on tape talking about Monk:

Here's Vijay Iyer in studio:

And Jessica Williams on stage:

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