Advice – Thelonious Monk Says…

572px-Thelonious_Monk,_Minton's_Playhouse,_New_York,_N.Y.,_ca._Sept._1947_(William_P._Gottlieb_06191)Recently I came across ‘Monk’s Notes’ online and found them to be both fun and inspirational and thought I would share them with you. One of the points from the list, “A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination,” I find particularly poignant.  Enjoy the list and hopefully you too will find some inspiration buried within.

Legendary jazz pianist Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) is known as one of the giants of jazz. Along with being well known for his original improvisational style and large number of recordings, he also wrote several well known standards like “Well, You Needn’t”, “‘Round Midnight”, and “Straight, No Chaser”.

Steve Lacy (1934-2004) was a jazz saxophonist who played in Monk’s band in the late fifties and early sixties.  After his tenure with Monk, Lacy continued to record and play Monk’s tunes conisistently for the rest of his career.  He subscribed to the Monk style of Jazz and transcribed the list of Monk’s advice seen below somewhere around 1960.



Monk's Advice

Original List-Click To Enlarge

  • Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.
  • Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head, when you play.
  • Stop playing all those weird notes (that bullshit), play the melody!
  • Make the drummer sound good.
  • Discrimination is important.
  • You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?
  • Always know….(MONK)
  • It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn’t need the lights.
  • Let’s lift the band stand!!
  • I want to avoid the hecklers.
  • Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that. Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you!
  • The inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good.
  • Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important that what you do.
  • A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.
  • Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, and when it comes, he’s out of shape and can’t make it.
  • When you’re swinging, swing some more.
  • (What should we wear tonight? Sharp as possible!)
  • Always leave them wanting more.
  • Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene. These pieces were written so as to have something to play and get cats interested enough to come to rehearsal.
  • You’ve got it! If you don’t want to play, tell a joke or dance, but in any case, you got it! (To a drummer who didn’t want to solo)
  • Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself.
  • They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along and spoil it.

(Monks Advice Souce:, image from)

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