Our View: City celebrates acclaimed native son


Rocky Mount Telegram

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A series of events this weekend across the city celebrated the 100th birthday of legendary jazz musician Thelonious Monk.

Monk was born on Oct. 10, 1917, to Thelonious and Barbara Monk in Rocky Mount. The family moved to New York City in 1922, but throughout his life Monk would always tell people, “I’m from Rocky Mount.”

Monks was a true jazz genius with a unique improvisational style and was renowned for his distinctive style in suits, hats and sunglasses. His compositions and performances featured dissonances and angular melodic twists and an unorthodox approach to the piano that combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of switched key releases, silences and hesitations. 

Monk made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire and was instrumental to the formation of the musical style of bebop. The many groundbreaking jazz classics he wrote included such famous songs as “Round Midnight,” “Blue Monk,” “Straight, No Chaser,” “Ruby, My Dear,” “In Walked Bud” and “Well, You Needn’t.”

Monk’s classic body of work has been immortalized in the Smithsonian Institute. He is the second most-recorded jazz composer and one of five jazz musicians to have been featured on the cover of Time magazine.

Monk was posthumously awarded a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 1993 and awarded a special Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for “a body of distinguished and innovative musical composition that has had a significant and enduring impact on the evolution of jazz.”

Monk’s contributions and impact on jazz music brought him international acclaim that continues to this day. So it is fitting that his home town pay homage to him on his 100th birthday. The celebration kicked off Friday at the Imperial Centre and continued into Saturday with a range of activities across the city, including several jazz concerts, a film showing, a book signing and a Thelonious Monk marker dedication ceremony at Thelonious Monk Park at 920 S. Washington St.

Although he lived in Rocky Mount for just a few short years as a young child, the city rightly embraces him as a proud, talented and iconic son who achieved both artistic and popular success and worldwide fame.