Five Minutes That Will Make You Love Thelonious Monk
We asked Jon Batiste, Arooj Aftab, Mary Halvorson and others to share their favorites.
Jon Batiste, pianist and composer
It’s not possible for me to choose a favorite Monk song. At 19, I became obsessed with everything Thelonious and spent a year focused exclusively on absorbing as much as I could. Monk is a world. “Introspection,” from the album “Solo Monk,” is borderline atonal while still distinctively melody-rich. The melody is akin to a nursery rhyme in its playful logic and symmetry, all while whistling overtop a bed of through-composed dissonance. Those chords! The way he constructs the harmony to shift between at least three identifiable key centers creates a trance-like quality to the recording that rides the borders of Eastern mysticism and some obtuse sanctified hymn. The chord voicings are constructed for every note to have a deliberate intention. There’s no room for harmonic interpretation here — if you add or take away any of the notes from his chord voicings, the song risks completely losing its identity. Monk’s way of “super syncopation” is utilized significantly in this tune as well, making his charismatic approach to aligning the harmony and melody a defining characteristic of the composition.
He named it “Introspection” ’cause he certainly had a lot on his mind with this one. Very concentrated in all harmony, melody and rhythm. The master of repetition. Over the years it’s the least played Monk tune of all. This is significant given that he is one of the most covered and influential composers of the modern age. I love the “Solo Monk” version because he doesn’t even improvise over the chord changes, he just states the melody twice and walks out of the studio (or at least that’s how I envision it). Sometimes that’s all that needs to be played: the tune.