Do you remember the first time you heard music from Thelonius Monk? I was in high school. My music teacher was an avid fan. I recall sitting in the band room waiting for the class to start and he was arranging music for the jazz quartet. It was "Strait, No Chaser." I didn't know at the time. It sounds like a lot of broken notes to me, but as a musician, you keep your mind open. As an artist, you assume that he was trying something new.
A different student came into the band room after me and had more courage to say out loud what I was thinking. "What are you playing? It sounds out of tune?" The piano stopped, and I cringed. "That's Monk Man. You don't know Monk?" This took us into a long lesson about Thelonious Monk. His music style, his career, his life.
Even after the lesson, it took me a moment to grasp his music, but not his life. His life was poetic, dramatic, cool, the epitome of black life in America, genius. I love that he ran by passion, not by what was accepted. He changed Jazz and what a Jazz musician feels like, look like. I played his music to get a better understanding of the man. I am genuinely now a fan.
The other day, I attended a concert celebrating 100th birthday. I know if my music teacher was alive he would have been in the room taking it in, swinging and swaying, maybe even shedding a tear or two. The truth is that Monk was not appreciated right away. It took years for some of us to see his greatness and contribution. It made me think how important it is to love what you do and not do it for recognition. I find myself struggling to be seen and heard sometimes and have to remind myself that is not the point. The product, the art, the sharing, those are the points of it all.