Monk was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and grew up in New York City's San Juan Hill neighborhood. He began playing piano at a young age, and by his teens, he was already performing in local jazz clubs. In the 1940s, he became a central figure in the burgeoning bebop scene, playing with other jazz legends such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
Throughout his career, Monk recorded and performed with many of the most important musicians in jazz history, including John Coltrane, Art Blakey, and Sonny Rollins. He was known for his idiosyncratic style, which included unusual chord voicings, dissonant harmonies, and unpredictable rhythms. His compositions, such as "Round Midnight," "Straight, No Chaser," and "Blue Monk," are now considered jazz standards.
In the late 1960s, Monk largely withdrew from the public eye and stopped performing regularly. However, his influence continued to be felt in the jazz world, and his legacy only continued to grow in the years following his death in 1982.
Today, Thelonious Monk is widely recognized as one of the most important and innovative musicians in the history of jazz. His contributions to the genre have been celebrated and analyzed by generations of musicians and critics, and his influence can be heard in the work of countless jazz artists today.
Thelonious Monk, Minton's Playhouse, New York, ca. September 1947. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb