T.S. Monk is jazz’s prodigal son. His pianist-composer father, iconic “high priest of be-bop” Thelonious Monk (1917-1982), blazed a trail that left jazz changed forever. But T.S. (born Thelonious Sphere Monk III) rebelled against dad, taking up the drums and fronting an R&B band in the 1980s. Slowly, however, son returned to father’s music, and today, at age 67, T.S. Monk is an acknowledged jazz master and a tireless champion of his father’s legacy.
T.S. Monk’s “Monk on Monk: A Centennial Celebration of Thelonious Monk” comes to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Oct. 14, as part of a tour commemorating the 100th anniversary of the elder Monk’s birth.
“Monk on Monk” will duplicate the big-band instrumentation of Thelonious Monk’s legendary New York Town Hall appearance Feb. 18, 1959, a concert recorded and released on LP (and later remastered on CD) as “The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall.” The concert featured arrangements of Monk’s compositions for the 10-piece configuration of piano, bass, drums, trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba, alto sax, tenor sax and baritone sax. This was a unique event, as Monk’s usual format was the classic jazz quartet of rhythm section plus sax, such as the landmark quartet he led starting in 1957 that featured John Coltrane on tenor sax, with Wilbur Ware on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums.
The Scottsdale concert will feature many of the charts from the Town Hall program, such as “Monk’s Mood,” “Friday the 13th” and “In Walked Bud,” plus such Monk standards as “Round Midnight” and “Straight, No Chaser.” In addition, T.S. Monk’s sextet from within the orchestra will play some recently discovered, previously unknown Thelonious Monk compositions. Along the way, there likely will be some solos from drummer Monk.
Asked why he took up the drums, T.S. Monk said that each musician must find the instrument appropriate to his musicality. In childhood, he tried various instruments that didn’t “speak” to him, but at age 15, when superstar jazz drummer Art Blakey gave him the gift of a drum kit, he knew he’d found his musical voice. He must have chosen correctly, because Variety magazine has called him “a first-rate drummer, unquenchably driving and one of the few who can keep the pulse swinging.”
In addition to his work as a drummer and bandleader, Monk is a music educator and founder of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in Washington, D.C. He has been at the forefront of helping to create a number of programs that range from sponsoring music education in the form of full scholarships, to funding and supporting after-school athletic programs. The institute’s activities reach from Boston to Los Angeles and from New York to Orlando.
Tickets: $59 (M $51) / $39 / $29. Free for eligible veterans, students and teachers. Patrons 29 and under, 50 percent off. Go to www.ScottsdalePerformingArts.org, or call (480) 499-TKTS (8587).