Sunday, January 13, 2008

An Encounter With Greatness - But Not As Intended

After returning from Europe; before deciding to teach at public schools and college, I was director of the theory department in a private music school outside of Boston.
On a particular day, I was told that the legendary jazz pianist Thelonius Monk was in Boston for an appearance. Knowing that a considerable chunk of the student body had a solid interest in jazz, I took a chance and contacted the hotel that Monk was staying at.
I did not for a moment think that Monk would accept an invitation to visit our school, but I took a shot at it. To my amazement, Thelonius Monk said yes. I arranged for one of the students to pick him up and bring him to the school. Keep in mind that all this occurred on the same day.
We hastily set up about 60 folding chairs in the small auditorium, and awaited the Great One.
Later in the day(early afternoon, as I remember), Thelonius Monk came through the door, cap on head and dark glasses in place.
Without any discussion with Monk beforehand(my great error!), knowing that he did not have much time, I introduced him, stating that Mr. Monk might like to discuss with the students and faculty some of the aspects of his music.
Shockingly, Monk, sitting in the front row, in a rather loud voice, said something like "Hey, man!
I don't talk about my music. I'm not that great with words, man."
I was so taken aback, that some seconds passed before realizing that this man was not one cloaked in eloquence, but a medium through which passed a form of language recognized for its unique message.
And so I said(with some fear of what might ensue) something like "I hope, then, that Mr. Monk will play for us."
Amazingly, he without word or hesitation ambled to an upright piano situated in front of and below the stage, and created magic for about a half hour.
He left without much fanfare, and with even fewer words.
None there will ever forget that strange, wordless time; that surreal encounter with genius.

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