Born on October 10, 1917, in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and raised in New York City, Thelonious Monk began picking out tunes on the piano at the age of six. Even at this early age, he tended to prefer an offbeat style. When he was 11, Monk began taking weekly piano lessons and continued studying for two years while he played the organ in his church. At the tender age of 13, he began performing in local bands. As a testament to his musical ability, Monk frequently won amateur talent contests at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, a popular arena that had launched the careers of many black entertainers. Monk’s dissonant, complex piano style featured advanced rhythmic and harmonic effects. This, combined with his humorous, almost playful quality, allowed his compositions to become jazz standards. Early in his career, Monk developed techniques that had been popularized by James P. Johnson, Willie Smith and Fats Waller. Known as the “High Priest of Bebop,” Monk congregated with a small body of jazzmen in the 1930s, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Christian. These men introduced musical innovations that would later develop into today’s forms of modern jazz. In 1948 Monk brought his first “bebop” group to Greenwich Village, where he played at the Village Vanguard. His best known works include: Well, You Needn’t, I Mean You, Blue Monk and Around Midnight. Though Monk died on February 17, 1982, in Englewood, New Jersey, his contributions to the jazz community still flourish.
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