Watch the first part of a two-part doc portrait of the unorthodox Jazz piano great, featuring live performances at the Village Vanguard and intimate BTS footage of 1967 recording sessions at Columbia Records.
Thelonious Sphere Monk, one of the most recorded jazz musicians in history, was, throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, lauded and idolized within the jazz community – yet even at the height of his musical prowess and fame, he was still practically unknown. Notorious for his angular melodies, unusual harmonic progressions, and wry sensibilities, the unorthodox pianist produced some of the most striking contributions to the jazz canon.
A self-taught musician, Monk was downright unwavering when it came to structure and jazz principles: He favored exploring unused spaces, the strange and illogical, the notes found in the dark.
Approaching the end of his life as a public performer in 1967, a German television network commissioned a young New York documentarian and filmmaker named Michael Blackwood to produce a doc on the eccentric composer. After following Monk across two continents for six months, Blackwood accumulated fourteen hours of highly candid footage of the late pianist, enough to produce two full-length cinéma-vérité-style works broadcast in Germany and then never seen again. Until recently.
Shared on the centennial day of Monk’s birth in 2017, Blackwood re-released these lost works and another unreleased documentary called Monk in Europe. The footage here takes you on a telling journey through his ethos, featuring iconic moments of spinning in place onstage, and of needing a break from recording and proceeding to lock himself in a broom closet. Stunning live footage captures the pianist in extreme close-up: watch as his facial expressions reflect a musical mind at work.
The end result is a beautiful portrayal of a jazz legend and an in-depth look at his unique, highly endearing personality. Essential viewing for fans, take a glimpse into the muse of this passionate and creative original, truly one of the 20th century’s most brilliant musical pioneers.
Filmmaker Blackwood on the piece: “Part one of a two-part portrait of the great Jazz composer and pianist. In 1968, we had the opportunity to spend time with Thelonious Monk and his musicians, following him in New York and Atlanta. In New York his quartet plays at the Village Vanguard and at recording sessions for Columbia Records; in Atlanta they appear at a Jazz Festival organized by George Wein. The members of the quartet were Charlie Rouse, Larry Gales, and Ben Riley.”