Thelonious Monk was born in Rocky Mount on October 10, 1917. Although he left the state when he was four, Monk is somewhere within the top three jazz musicians to be born in North Carolina, depending on how you feel about John Coltrane and Max Roach. He defined so much of what it meant to play jazz piano in the 1950s and 1960s. His form was deeply rooted in the stride stylings of James P. Johnson and Willie "The Lion" Smith, but his knotty, pointillistic approach to soloing put him at the cutting edge of what jazz could be. On top of that, he composed dozens of inventive tunes—"'Round Midnight," "Straight, No Chaser," "Ruby, My Dear," and "Epistrophe," to name a few—that remain at the core of the songbook of jazz standards.
For eleven days this October, Duke Performances celebrates Monk's hundredth birthday with a massively ambitious festival titled Monk@100: A Celebration of Genius. Curated by Duke Performances director Aaron Greenwald and pianist Ethan Iverson (formerly of The Bad Plus), the festival's eleven performances bring some of the biggest names in jazz to Durham to pay tribute to Monk's continued influence on jazz and music more broadly.
The festival is roughly divided in two halves. The first is built around tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen's adventurous trio, including guest guitarist Bill Frisell, trumpeter Dave Douglas, and pianist Kris Davis. Anchoring the second half is Iverson's new trio, who'll be joined by guests such as saxophonists Ravi Coltrane, Joshua Redman, and Chris Potter. In between is the intriguing pairing of pianist Jason Moran and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, gritty gospel by the Como Mamas, and an all-star piano rundown of Monk's oevure. The festival's breadth and depth is almost too much for a mere two weeks. —Dan Ruccia