MONK AT 100 Swings at Nardis Jazz Club
In 1976, Thelonious Monk stepped off the bandstand at the Newport Jazz Festival and never set foot on the stage again. His closest circle of friends and family, bandmates and patrons remembered the last six years of his life, until his death at he age of 65 with a peculiar, spiritual insight. Monk simply stopped playing altogether. His musical soul had departed before his body finally succumbed to death in 1982, the very morning his go-to drummer Ben Riley began recording a tribute album in his name to try and tempt him to return to music.
One of his distinguished contemporaries, the African roots-inspired pianist and composer Randy Weston, who continued touring the world into his eighties, was one of many who attempted to give meaning to Monk's mystifying, internal musical passing. "I just got the impression that the surroundings of the music didn't move with the music. He shut the door," said Weston for his interview in the 1991 documentary Thelonious Monk: American Composer. "He gave so much, and he had to make great sacrifices to give what he gave because he never compromised his music. Monk was almost like a prophet. He was here for a reason. He was here to bring us all this beauty, all this love to the world. He couldn't compromise. He didn't know how."
In 2013, Istanbul hosted the second annual International Jazz Day, welcoming such greats as Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, as well as the preeminent world-class Turkish clarinetist Hüsnü Senlendirici. Led by the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in partnership with UNESCO and the Republic of Turkey, the single day of celebrating jazz worldwide had reached over a billion people in its inaugural year in the name of Monk and only continues to influence the entire globe with a truly universal resonance. It has become an auspicious day now famous for organizing every last country on the planet, all 196 of them, with each of the fifty states in the U.S., to play jazz all together inside of 24 hours once a year.
On the evening of October 10, 2017, the premier jazz club in Istanbul known as Nardis echoed with the proud, non-discriminating frequencies of totally original genius performing the instantly recognizable sound of Thelonious Monk. It became standing-only for countless local aficionados who crowded the 120-seat room from the bar to the bandstand. Outside, music lovers swayed under the neighboring Galata Tower, as its shadowy mystic lights stole the reimagined past from the medieval Genovese mind, transplanted onto the core of the greatest Turkish metropolis. Vagrant drunkards sang around the corners, swigging raki and guiding lost taxis into the sparsely ambled night.
Inside Nardis, bandleader and pianist Kaan Biyikoglu opened the music just after its start time as is traditional to the concept of jazz minutes when a little late is right on. They began with Thelonious, the first track on the legendary album Underground. It's a sound that still transcends mainstream popularity, yet it is uptempo perfection from bebop to hard swing, stride and every nameless and uncategorized expressionism given to absolute improvisation as intended by his irreplaceable pair of ears. Monk trained himself to compose music anew, transforming sonic definition beyond classical and contemporary, traditional and avant-garde. And he was always on the eternal spot, expanding the pocket and riding on waves of scales all his own.
Tenor saxophonist Batu Salliel greeted the audience with a fine wailing in key as he triumphed to a ripe, glorified mode that ascended as it peaked through the bountifully complex chord structures. He took after the most fabled of Monk's horn accompanist bandmates Charlie Rouse, and Sonny Rollins from the Brilliant Corners album. And so, Biyikoglu softly announced the title track of that latter recording that spearheaded a new wave of jazz composition where original music by players would become the contemporary standard. Its opening juxtaposition of harmonies surrounds the listener like a gallivanting army of deserters gawking with implosive, silent laughter. Rhythm section instrumentalists Matt Hall on bass and Ferit Odman on drums slammed and rattled as they poured out oceans of waterfalls of springs of floods of avalanches of blizzards of notes. Elegant, subtle, refined, the beat pulsed gravitating around the orbital firmament of such inner, aural fire as Monk fanned for the people for the ages to hear and stare until dizzy to fainting under a spell of enchanting and salubrious vitality.
And then they played a downtempo version of Reflections that warmed the soul to the calm and cathartic vibrations of human power at its softest and artistic chaos at its clearest. Salliel rung in to the gorgeous catastrophe of the universe at play, harmonized within the small spaces of the world where people come to listen and tune in to the nearest source of perfection on Earth: pure music. That was before Sibel Köse stood up to belt out In Walked Bud with a genuine powder keg of scat as her grandiloquent vocals pounced and sprang upon her listeners with an animalistic drive that sent ears to the roof, as the standing danced and the sitting tapped and kicked for three hours into the obscure, high night of downtown Istanbul sounding off a centenarian birthday wish for the inimitable and ubiquitous, timeless music of Thelonious Monk.
Turkish translation by Aysegül Üldes at Art Unlimited
Photo Courtesy of Nardis Jazz Club