T.S. Monk performs to a sold-out crowd

John Balchak

Whether playing drums or speaking at the mike, T.S. Monk is a master communicator.

He demonstrated these talents during a sold-out performance at the Saville theater on Nov. 10. The concert, presented by campus radio station KSDS, blended the sparse, elemental jazz of his trio with some entertaining and inspiring oratory
between numbers.

Monk, who is capable of many different styles and had a dance hit with “Bon Bon Vie” in 1980, choose the classic jazz
idiom for this show, reminiscent of the music of his father, piano legend Thelonious Monk.

The savvy trio included young
instrumentalists Sergio Salvatore on piano and L.A. bassist Hamilton Price. Monk, seated at a basic four-piece drum set, lead them through jazz standards such as “Jean Marie” by Ronnie Mathews and some of his father’s work.

“Thelonious Monk compositions stick in your head,” he related to an enthusiastic audience.

Monk, a left handed player, interjected several solos, demonstrating tight chops on the drums and triple-stroking on the ride cymbal. He then turned the stage over to “young talent” Salvatore. The deft pianist took listeners on a ride with his amazing ability, displaying both technical virtuosity and emotional vocabulary.

During breaks from the music, Monk emerged from behind his set to engage the audience,
including those tuned into the Jazz Live radio broadcast, with insightful monologue. He is also chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, “The largest jazz education organization on the planet”.

He later told stories of his youth and his father’s famous friends. His father once
called bandleader Art Blakey and asked him to, “bring some drums over”.

Another call went to jazz great Max Roach, who was told, “Max, I’m sending him over to your house,” for lessons.

Monk said he never truly realized his family reputation until, at 19, someone asked him, “Do you know who your father is?”

Toward the end of the show, Monk returned to his father’s classics, much to the audience’s approval. The mesmerizing “Monk’s Mood” brought a calm hush to the room, a requiem for the jazz of the past. This was followed by the quick, swinging bebop of “Rhythm-a-Ning”. The show culminated with Monk playing a solo that spilled off the drum set, across the floor, up the podium and onto the mike stand where he paused to offer a few parting thoughts before tapping his way back to his instrument for the finale.

“Jazz is very much American. It is individual.” Monk mused to the audience.

He proved this view with a combination of excellent musicianship, heart-felt philosophy and even a little
dancing, as his father was known to do during performances. By the time this sublime event was over, all who were listening understood what he was saying.