Art Monroe has been playing jazz piano in D.C. schools and nightclubs for 21 years, but he has just released his first album, "Stained Glass Window," on his own Jazzbeau Records. Backed by drummer Mike Smith and bassist Paul Langlosch, Monroe moves adroitly across a wide range of jazz styles with a fluid, melodic touch that recalls Horace Silver and Monty Alexander. Like those two, Monroe knows when to insert a pause into his stream of notes to better frame his musical statements.
The first cousin of bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, Art Monroe grew up in the small rural town of Bardstown, Ky. Between 1957 and 1963, he played in the U.S. Navy Band at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. "It was a fabulous time for jazz in New York," he recalls fondly. "I used to go over to Birdland and hear Miles, Coltrane, Wynton Kelly and more. I'd sit in with the other musicians and even the Brooklyn Navy Band had some heavy players who later made a name for themselves: Bill Watrous, Barry Weinstein and Bill Fender."
Monroe moved to the Washington area in 1964 to teach in the Fairfax County public schools and at St. John's prep before taking over the fledgling music department at Howard Community College in Columbia. He considers teaching, nightclub work and composing equal priorities. He performs with his trio at Charlie's Thursday. "I feel pretty lucky," Monroe says. "I've never had to work outside the field of music, where my heart is. That doesn't mean you like everything you do in your field -- sometimes you have to play wedding receptions -- but at least you're working in your field."