Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser


1h 29m 1989
Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser

Brief Synopsis

A portrait of the legendary jazz great Thelonious Sphere Monk, featuring previously unseen footage from the 1960s.

Film Details

Also Known As
Thelonius Monk: Straight, No Chaser
MPAA Rating
PG-13
Genre
Documentary
Music
Release Date
1989
Distribution Company
WARNER BROS. PICTURES DISTRIBUTION (WBPD)

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 29m

Synopsis

A portrait of the legendary jazz great Thelonious Sphere Monk, featuring previously unseen footage from the 1960s.

Crew

Alexandra Baltarzuk

Sound

Larry Banks

Lighting Technician

Pamela Bendich

Thanks

Ruth Bird

Production Assistant

Kent Blocher

Production Assistant

R Franklin Brown

Thanks

Irving Caesar

Song

Sammy Cahn

Song

Leonaello Casucci

Song

David Chertok

Archival Footage

David Chertok

Thanks

Michael Chertok

Archival Footage

Joan Churchill

Photography

Kenny Clarke

Song

Jimmy Cleveland

Other

Bernadine Colish

Assistant Editor

Frank Driggs Collection

Photography

Meredith Collins

Photography

Harry Colomby

Thanks

Harry Colomby

Other

John Coltrane

Music

Ray Copeland

Other

Stanley Crouch

Thanks

Michael Cuscuna

Thanks

Michele Darmon

Thanks

Baroness Nica Dekoenigswarter

Other

Berit Dekoenigswarter

Thanks

Nica Dekoenigswarter

Special Thanks To

Nica Dekoenigswarter

Song

Nica Dekoenigswarter

Photography

Al Dubin

Song

Clint Eastwood

Executive Producer

Doreen Elliott

Transcripts

Lynn Emmolo

Thanks

Elliott Erwitt

Thanks

Dorothy Fields

Song

Bob Fiore

Camera Operator

Art Fitch

Song

Kay Fitch

Song

Tommy Flanagan

Other

Tom Fleischman

Sound

Harlene Freezer

Thanks

Larry Gales

Other

Larry Gales

Music

William P Gottlieb

Photography

Johnny Griffin

Music

Johnny Griffin

Other

Bernie Hanighen

Music

Lynda Hansen

Thanks

Barry Harris

Other

Coleman Hawkins

Music

Kate Hirson

Production Assistant

Petur Hliddal

Sound

Dick Hyman

Music

John P Johnson

Photography

Bob Jones

Thanks

Bob Jones

Other

Willie Jones

Thanks

Ralph Kaffel

Thanks

Mike Karas

Grip

Mike Karas

Sound

Mike Karas

Electrician

Peter Keepnews

Production Assistant

Jay Keuper

Production Assistant

Kiyoshi Koyama

Archival Footage

Susan Lacy

Thanks

Herman Leonard

Photography

Bert Lowe

Song

Bruce Lundvall

Thanks

Teo Macero

Other

Stuart Math

Photography

Jimmy Mchugh

Song

Peter G. Miller

Sound

Barbara Monk

Special Thanks To

Nellie Monk

Special Thanks To

Nellie Monk

Other

Thelonious Monk

Music

Thelonious Monk

Special Thanks To

Thelonious Monk

Other

Thomas Monk

Thanks

Thomas Monk

Special Thanks To

Dan Morgenstern

Thanks

Bob Parent

Photography

Francis Paudras

Photography

Francis Paudras

Thanks

Noelle Penraat

Negative Cutting

Roger Phenix

Sound

Michael Phillips

Thanks

Lynn Piasecki

Production Assistant

Debbie Reinberg

Thanks

Bruce Ricker

Producer

Jason Ricker

Production Assistant

Ben Riley

Other

Ben Riley

Music

Kirk Roberts

Thanks

Chris Rosen

Key Grip

Charlie Rouse

Thanks

Charlie Rouse

Other

Charlie Rouse

Music

Don Schlitten

Photography

Nina Schulman

Sound Editor

Christian Schwarzwald

Director Of Photography

Christian Schwarzwald

Other

Anthony Sclafani

Production Accountant

Daihei Shiohama

Thanks

Don Sickler

Thanks

Alex Stordahl

Song

Walter Thomas

Music

Tim Timpanaro

Thanks

Rudy Van Gelder

Sound

Harry Warren

Song

Paul Weston

Song

Alonzo White

Special Thanks To

Marion White

Special Thanks To

Cootie Williams

Music

Phil Woods

Music

Phil Woods

Other

Richard Woodward

Production Assistant

Irwin Young

Other

Melvin Zalel

Thanks

Charlotte Zwerin

Editor

Charlotte Zwerin

Producer

Film Details

Also Known As
Thelonius Monk: Straight, No Chaser
MPAA Rating
PG-13
Genre
Documentary
Music
Release Date
1989
Distribution Company
WARNER BROS. PICTURES DISTRIBUTION (WBPD)

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 29m

Articles

Thelonius Monk: Straight, No Chaser


Pianist-composer Thelonious Monk, one of the certifiable geniuses of jazz, remains one of its iconic presences, bent over a keyboard in collar, suit, tie, jacket, sunglasses and most famously topped off by one or another piece of his idiosyncratic headgear. In a time when jazz musicians favored berets - the 1940s through the 1960s -- his trademark lids usually ran to skullcaps, sometimes tasseled, often embroidered. But the lids he placed on his head seemed the only ones in the vicinity of the piano, the lids of which seemed to lift off, propelled not just by his digital dexterity and often percussive touch, but by the feeling that while Monk's music-making was spontaneous, it had in it something pent up for a long time, spilling and cascading from his depths.

Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988) could easily have seemed a patchwork cobbled together from disparate pieces. It beats the odds, though, turning into a pungent time capsule that not only offers insights into the legendarily non-verbal Monk (1917-1982), but into his process and his era besides. It began in 1967 and 1968 when documentarians Michael and Christian Blackmore, commissioned by West German television, followed Monk around for six months, filming him in grainy black and white, in a number of contexts, in fly-on-the-wall style. That footage, shelved for years, is at the heart of this 1988 film directed by Charlotte Zwerin. Shining like unearthed treasure, punctuated by posthumously recorded talking heads of those close to Monk, it's the big reason Zwerin's assemblage (produced with the aid of jazz aficionados Clint Eastwood and Bruce Ricker) seems both humane and, in the end, exhilarating in ways no conventionally structured documentary, tethered to a narrative through line, could have been.

The great thing about the Blackmore brothers' footage is that they were able to just hang around long enough so that Monk eventually began to lower his guard. Occasionally there are moments when he's aware of the camera, but mostly he ignores it, which means that the most introverted of pianist-composers makes himself available to be captured in affecting and compelling ways. Thus, we see Monk noodling at a Columbia recording session, then expressing disappointment that the take wasn't recorded (they thought it was just a warm-up). Later, saxophonist Charlie Rouse, a longtime Monk collaborator, says Monk almost always went with the first take, sometimes a second, almost never a third. We see Monk fret on the eve of a European tour that turned out to be a big success, run up against the language barrier when trying to order chicken livers and eggs from a room-service waiter in Copenhagen, return people's greetings on a Manhattan street in the West 60s, not far from where he grew up, and, on occasion, simply stare into the camera with his huge vulnerable eyes.

The film also pays him the respect due his professionalism and master craftsmanship, even when he was several steps ahead of his sidemen. Because so much of the footage retains its shot-on-the-run quality, leaving for a later time that never came the task of sorting it and editing it, there's never a sense of an interpreter interposing himself between Monk and us, especially in the footage of Monk unwinding after concerts. Fittingly, given Monk's taciturn nature, there isn't a lot of talk, although Monk's patience and gentleness come through when he politely answers in a soft voice a barrage of stupid questions from reporters while on tour. ("Are 88 keys piano keys enough for you?" "Yes.") ("Do your hats affect your playing?" "No.") But although the film gives us more of the man than any concert documentary could, it also provides generous helpings of his music, including concert performances. Also, his idiosyncrasies, such as pausing in the middle of performing, rising from the piano bench, and slowly moving in clockwise circles for a few revolutions, as if making some internal adjustment before he could continue.

By the time he was recognized as a pioneer, and an inventor of bebop, he had moved onto hard bop and other styles. Still, we're reminded that Monk didn't come out of nowhere. He grew up near where James P. Johnson, the father of stride piano, lived. Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Art Tatum were influences, too. We're also reminded of how objectively and unsentimentally he played his own compositions, especially the ones made famous by others, most notably "Round Midnight." His introverted and convoluted ideas really were ideas, too, not just embellishments. He was one of the first bop deconstructivists, altering standards, reworking rhythms. To hear him reinvent "Just a Gigolo" or "Lulu's Back in Town" is to wince at shallow criticism that dismissed him as a bad pianist. To hear the dissonances in his "Crepuscle for Nellie" (his longtime loving and supportive wife), or the crushed notes and suspended tonalities in his other compositions, is to erase any doubts about his musical sophistication or his prodigious ability to extend music itself, not just jazz.

Mercifully, Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser refrains from trying to explain genius. Nor does it yield to the temptation to advance facile diagnoses when the onset of depression began to cloud Monk's musicianship and life. Nor does it make the mistake of trying to oversell him as a colorful personality. It doesn't have to. It simply stands back and allows his genuine originality and unorthodoxy to make their own impression. Zwerin's contribution consists largely of intercutting the wonderful old footage with interviews featuring Monk's family, his colleagues and his latter-day patroness, Nica de Koenigswarter, a Rothschild whose cat-filled house in Weehawken, N.J., often was a refuge for Monk.

His former manager, Harry Colomby, underscores the political dimension in Monk's music-making, pointing out that Monk was one of the first black musicians to pursue an artistic vision instead of seeking merely to please audiences, thus presaging the black independence movement. Monk's grown son recalls the terror he felt as a boy when his father would pace the floor for days until exhaustion overcame him, or later, when the elder Monk would look at his son and not recognize him. The dark passions that Monk internalized except when they erupted as art at the keyboard are not neglected. Nor is their corollary - the fact that art never comes easy. The aptly-titled Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser is one of the exceptions to the rule that film and jazz don't mix.

Producer: Bruce Ricker, Charlotte Zwerin
Director: Charlotte Zwerin
Cinematography: Christian Blackwood
Music: Dick Hyman
Cast: Jimmy Cleveland, Harry Colomby, John Coltrane, Ray Copeland, Nica De Koenigswarter, Tommy Flanagan, Larry Gales, Johnny Griffin, Barry Harris, Bob Jones.
BW&C-90m.

by Jay Carr
Thelonius Monk: Straight, No Chaser

Thelonius Monk: Straight, No Chaser

Pianist-composer Thelonious Monk, one of the certifiable geniuses of jazz, remains one of its iconic presences, bent over a keyboard in collar, suit, tie, jacket, sunglasses and most famously topped off by one or another piece of his idiosyncratic headgear. In a time when jazz musicians favored berets - the 1940s through the 1960s -- his trademark lids usually ran to skullcaps, sometimes tasseled, often embroidered. But the lids he placed on his head seemed the only ones in the vicinity of the piano, the lids of which seemed to lift off, propelled not just by his digital dexterity and often percussive touch, but by the feeling that while Monk's music-making was spontaneous, it had in it something pent up for a long time, spilling and cascading from his depths. Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988) could easily have seemed a patchwork cobbled together from disparate pieces. It beats the odds, though, turning into a pungent time capsule that not only offers insights into the legendarily non-verbal Monk (1917-1982), but into his process and his era besides. It began in 1967 and 1968 when documentarians Michael and Christian Blackmore, commissioned by West German television, followed Monk around for six months, filming him in grainy black and white, in a number of contexts, in fly-on-the-wall style. That footage, shelved for years, is at the heart of this 1988 film directed by Charlotte Zwerin. Shining like unearthed treasure, punctuated by posthumously recorded talking heads of those close to Monk, it's the big reason Zwerin's assemblage (produced with the aid of jazz aficionados Clint Eastwood and Bruce Ricker) seems both humane and, in the end, exhilarating in ways no conventionally structured documentary, tethered to a narrative through line, could have been. The great thing about the Blackmore brothers' footage is that they were able to just hang around long enough so that Monk eventually began to lower his guard. Occasionally there are moments when he's aware of the camera, but mostly he ignores it, which means that the most introverted of pianist-composers makes himself available to be captured in affecting and compelling ways. Thus, we see Monk noodling at a Columbia recording session, then expressing disappointment that the take wasn't recorded (they thought it was just a warm-up). Later, saxophonist Charlie Rouse, a longtime Monk collaborator, says Monk almost always went with the first take, sometimes a second, almost never a third. We see Monk fret on the eve of a European tour that turned out to be a big success, run up against the language barrier when trying to order chicken livers and eggs from a room-service waiter in Copenhagen, return people's greetings on a Manhattan street in the West 60s, not far from where he grew up, and, on occasion, simply stare into the camera with his huge vulnerable eyes. The film also pays him the respect due his professionalism and master craftsmanship, even when he was several steps ahead of his sidemen. Because so much of the footage retains its shot-on-the-run quality, leaving for a later time that never came the task of sorting it and editing it, there's never a sense of an interpreter interposing himself between Monk and us, especially in the footage of Monk unwinding after concerts. Fittingly, given Monk's taciturn nature, there isn't a lot of talk, although Monk's patience and gentleness come through when he politely answers in a soft voice a barrage of stupid questions from reporters while on tour. ("Are 88 keys piano keys enough for you?" "Yes.") ("Do your hats affect your playing?" "No.") But although the film gives us more of the man than any concert documentary could, it also provides generous helpings of his music, including concert performances. Also, his idiosyncrasies, such as pausing in the middle of performing, rising from the piano bench, and slowly moving in clockwise circles for a few revolutions, as if making some internal adjustment before he could continue. By the time he was recognized as a pioneer, and an inventor of bebop, he had moved onto hard bop and other styles. Still, we're reminded that Monk didn't come out of nowhere. He grew up near where James P. Johnson, the father of stride piano, lived. Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Art Tatum were influences, too. We're also reminded of how objectively and unsentimentally he played his own compositions, especially the ones made famous by others, most notably "Round Midnight." His introverted and convoluted ideas really were ideas, too, not just embellishments. He was one of the first bop deconstructivists, altering standards, reworking rhythms. To hear him reinvent "Just a Gigolo" or "Lulu's Back in Town" is to wince at shallow criticism that dismissed him as a bad pianist. To hear the dissonances in his "Crepuscle for Nellie" (his longtime loving and supportive wife), or the crushed notes and suspended tonalities in his other compositions, is to erase any doubts about his musical sophistication or his prodigious ability to extend music itself, not just jazz. Mercifully, Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser refrains from trying to explain genius. Nor does it yield to the temptation to advance facile diagnoses when the onset of depression began to cloud Monk's musicianship and life. Nor does it make the mistake of trying to oversell him as a colorful personality. It doesn't have to. It simply stands back and allows his genuine originality and unorthodoxy to make their own impression. Zwerin's contribution consists largely of intercutting the wonderful old footage with interviews featuring Monk's family, his colleagues and his latter-day patroness, Nica de Koenigswarter, a Rothschild whose cat-filled house in Weehawken, N.J., often was a refuge for Monk. His former manager, Harry Colomby, underscores the political dimension in Monk's music-making, pointing out that Monk was one of the first black musicians to pursue an artistic vision instead of seeking merely to please audiences, thus presaging the black independence movement. Monk's grown son recalls the terror he felt as a boy when his father would pace the floor for days until exhaustion overcame him, or later, when the elder Monk would look at his son and not recognize him. The dark passions that Monk internalized except when they erupted as art at the keyboard are not neglected. Nor is their corollary - the fact that art never comes easy. The aptly-titled Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser is one of the exceptions to the rule that film and jazz don't mix. Producer: Bruce Ricker, Charlotte Zwerin Director: Charlotte Zwerin Cinematography: Christian Blackwood Music: Dick Hyman Cast: Jimmy Cleveland, Harry Colomby, John Coltrane, Ray Copeland, Nica De Koenigswarter, Tommy Flanagan, Larry Gales, Johnny Griffin, Barry Harris, Bob Jones. BW&C-90m. by Jay Carr

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall October 7, 1989

Released in United States on Video October 17, 1990

Released in United States November 26, 1988

Released in United States January 1989

Released in United States February 1989

Released in United States March 1989

Released in United States September 30, 1989

Released in United States June 1990

Released in United States June 1998

Shown at London Film Festival November 26, 1988.

Shown at United States Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 27 & 29, 1989.

Shown at Berlin Film Festival (Forum of Young Cinema) February 12 & 13, 1989.

Shown at San Francisco Film Festival March 18 & 19, 1989.

Shown at New York Film Festival September 30, 1989.

Shown at Sydney Film Festival June 8-22, 1990.

Shown at Newport International Film Festival (Jazz Films Program) June 2-7, 1998.

Released in United States Fall October 7, 1989

Released in United States on Video October 17, 1990

Released in United States November 26, 1988 (Shown at London Film Festival November 26, 1988.)

Released in United States January 1989 (Shown at United States Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 27 & 29, 1989.)

Released in United States February 1989 (Shown at Berlin Film Festival (Forum of Young Cinema) February 12 & 13, 1989.)

Much of the material for this film was edited from Christian Blackwood's 14 hours of footage shot for German television in 1968.

Released in United States March 1989 (Shown at San Francisco Film Festival March 18 & 19, 1989.)

Released in United States September 30, 1989 (Shown at New York Film Festival September 30, 1989.)

Released in United States June 1990 (Shown at Sydney Film Festival June 8-22, 1990.)

Released in United States June 1998 (Shown at Newport International Film Festival (Jazz Films Program) June 2-7, 1998.)