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Monk Jr. and All That Jazz

By Michael E. Hill
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 28, 1997

  TV Week Features

The class will come to order. You’ve all signed up for Marketing 101, is that correct? Okay, you’re in the right room. Today’s guest lecturer is Thelonious Monk Jr., son of the legendary jazz composer and pianist.

A few notes on Mr. Monk’s background. He played trumpet at an early age, but Max Roach and Art Blakey, friends of his father, gave him a pair of sticks and a drum set, changing his musical course. He played for a couple of years with his father’s band. Mr. Monk now tours with his own septet and, since 1992, has released four CDs.

Mr. Monk is chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. And this week, the institute and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will co-produce "Nissan Presents: A Celebration of America’s Music." It is the second year for the special, which can be seen on ABC (Saturday at 9). It will be hosted by Bill Cosby and feature artists such as Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock, Al Jarreau, George Benson, Sheila E. and Dave Brubeck.

Class, please give it up – that is, welcome, Mr. Monk.

Mr. Monk, is jazz at something of a crossroads, possibly a crisis point in terms of its commercial survival?

"Crossroad, yes. Crisis point, yes."

You believe, Mr. Monk, that to flourish in the market place jazz must be flexible, adapt itself to other forms of entertainment. Is that correct? "Without that feature, we’re going to be lost in the 21st century as a viable form. It’ll be like stone-cutting – only a few will be able to do it, and the rest will be dreaming of how it once was."

Well, now, for this special, you’ve mated jazz to television. What has that involved?

"We looked to the issue of what makes TV attractive to TV people and what makes jazz attractive to jazz people.... First thing, remember the 'tele' in television – it’s got to look fabulous. Then it’s important that the visuals make sense in terms of the audio. We’ve gone through a great effort to make the finest recording of jazz on television in the history of television.... Then you need faces familiar to the jazz audience and the TV audience at large. And you have to develop a connecting tissue that explains why these people are there. Aretha started out singing gospel and jazz. George Benson started in jazz. It’s important to have Brazilian and Cuban idioms included, giving you variety – TV is about variety.

"And the show is not static. One has to be careful with jazz, not to let it become static. The camera angles, the look, the sound – they are all important. These are a part of the learning curve. We’re learning to get jazz across on television."

Thank you, Mr. Monk.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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