Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser

1988, Performing Arts  -  93 min Leave a Comment
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Expanding on footage of Monk's 1967 tour shot by Christian Blackwood, Charlotte Zwering (Gimme Shelter) has created the definitive filmic portrait of the master bop pianist-composer. This captivating DVD digs deeper into the life of the famously eccentric pianist-composer than the Ken Burns's tepid coffeetable documentary Jazz ever thought to.

A few shades different than the Burns film's monosyllabic, near-silent weirdo, Straight, No Chaser fleshes out Monk's character considerably - from his harmonic theories to his use of quarter - tones (produced by hitting two adjacent piano keys simultaneously and occasionally even striking the boards with his entire forearm or his foot) to his mysterious relationship with his patron, baroness Nica de Koenigswarter.

"Pannonica," a lyrical paean to her, is included on the soundtrack. Monk's music, naturally, is at the center of this canny portrait, giving fans cause to rejoice since most of the movie's performances had been previously unavailable in any form.

The more interesting excavations include footage of his near-forgotten 1967 octet and rare recordings of club performances and rehearsal takes of Monk standards like "Well, You Needn't," "Trinkle Tinkle," "Evidence," and the title song.