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Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser 1988
Description: A documentary movie about the life of pianist and jazz nice Thelonious Monk. Details live performances by Monk and his band, and interviews with mates and family about the offbeat genius.
Released: 31 Oct 1990 Director: Charlotte Zwerin Writers: N/A Actors: Jimmy Cleveland, Harry Colomby, John Coltrane, Ray Copeland Genres: Documentary, Biography, Music
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Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser Reviews:

The facts in the life of the virtuoso jazz pianist are somewhat neglected in favor of the melody itself, with most of the movie devoted to different live performances and rare, behind-the-stage rehearsal footage. The latter scenes give this otherwise straightforward portrait its most revealing moments, showing how complex and exacting the work of jazz composition and arrangement can be. Biographical features are filled in by mates and family but never probed in depth: was Monk, for example, now suffering some form of mental illness, or was his peculiar behavior merely the pose of an eccentric artist? If for no one else the movie is a gotta for jazz fanatics and musicians (it was produced by Clint Eastwood).


This is a documentary but almost a straight concert, featuring jazz pianist who performed mainly in the 1950s and 1960s and is a legend in melody circles.I tell "concert" because there is as much music, if not more, than dialog. Most of the tunes are excerpts from different much-longer numbers he did. Most of them are performed by Monk but some are done by another musicians. The coverage is in black-and-white and well done. Photography-wise, I particularly enjoyed the closeups of Monk's face as he performed. He wasn't the most articulate boy so perhaps that is why this is more concert than documentary. He acted as if he were stoned most of the time. I don't know his history so I can't comment further on that topic. Not being a jazz fan, I can't appreciate his melody as others would, but I'm being honest.....and I still enjoyed watching this even though I own only a half dozen jazz CDs. I imagine those who love jazz would have to own this. It's great that it's accessible actually on disc.


Thelonious Monk is the most necessary musician ever produced by this country. He is the best composer and the most influential musician of the jazz era. This film is so wonderful because I had not been lucky enough to have seen him before he died, and when I saw the film I was moved to tears. No one in the film now admits he was schizophrenic, but it seems cute obvious and to me, makes him even more of a genius--that he should write and perform despite his disability. It shows the deep devotion of his wife Nellie, and others who helped him, and finally, how he sank into his disease before he died. Thank you so much, Charlotte Zwerin, for making this paean to Monk. When folks are still listening to him hundreds of years from now, they can see him in your unbelievable movie.



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