Saturday, June 27, 2020
Doc Watch: Thelonius Monk - Straight, No Chaser (1988)
Director: Charlotte Zwerin
I am not a jazz aficionado - that's NathanC's gig. I honestly haven't put on a Thelonius Monk album in a while - maybe years. I did go through my jazz phase twenty years ago, so, yeah, I still have those albums.
TCM has been doing a series called "Jazz in the Movies", which I haven't watched much of, but decided to record a couple of films one night, and had heard that Thelonius Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988) was an exemplary doc. This reputation was earned, and I am sure jazz fans all know it.
For folks like myself who are only vaguely aware of Monk, it's a fascinating crash course to get you past simply enjoying the music and understand the man who made it. Shocker of all shockers - a pre-eminent jazz artist has a complicated life and personal issues. Unlike Miles Davis, the wounds aren't as self-inflicted, but they do weigh on him.
Culled from footage shot on a late career tour and post-death interviews with colleagues, the doc paints a portrait of a complicated man who was *loved* by the people who knew him and couldn't help but stand in awe of his genius. And, yeah, I don't use the word genius a lot - but the names tied to Be-Bop sure seem like they deserve it.
It wasn't hurt at all by the intro and outro conversations on TCM by Eddie Muller (who knew he knew jazz?) and his majesty Wynton Marsalis (and, yes, I've see Marsalis play live once and it was worth every penny).
The doc gives the music room to breathe, and reminded me how and why I went through that jazz era. And what I'll be listening to after Jamie turns in tonight.