Change of the "Guard": Charlie Rouse, Steve Lacy, and the Music of Thelonious Monk
Bruce, Ryan David
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The word “Monkian” is frequently used in jazz discourse to describe the music of pianist Thelonious Monk. This study consolidates literature on Monk’s music to define the Monkian aesthetic as an integration of the following musical elements: unorthodox jazz harmony, rhythmic displacement, principles of economy, an emphasis on thematic repetition, and technical experimentation. These elements appear in his compositions, which jazz musicians find difficult to perform. The Monkian aesthetic may be apparent in music by other jazz performers who integrate these elements during improvisation. An analysis of selected improvisations by Charlie Rouse and Steve Lacy, two saxophonists who performed Monk’s music extensively, demonstrates this aesthetic. Analyses are conducted on two solos by Rouse in the post-bop style—“Evidence” (1960) and “Rhythm-A-Ning” (1964)—and three recordings by Lacy in the free jazz style: two versions of “Evidence” (1961 and 1985) and “Pannonica” (1963). The Monkian aesthetic is prominent in their music, and is demonstrated through narrative description with the aid of formulaic, schematic, and reduction analysis techniques. Group interaction is shown to play a significant role in their interpretations. I argue that Monk, Rouse, and Lacy were avant-garde jazz musicians. They represent a change in the notion of “avant-garde” in jazz according to the musical analyses and a critical evaluation of their social environment. Monk’s performances, recordings, and public image were avant-garde for the 1940s and 1950s. Rouse followed Monk’s musical conception closely, and by extension, is considered an avant-gardist in jazz. Lacy’s music and his community of musicians helped define the 1960s avant-garde movement in jazz. Both saxophonists contributed to Monk’s legacy in these conceptions of avant-gardism.