Photo: Marcus L. Miller Trio performed at the Opening Reception for the exhibit "The HIgh Priest of Bop: The Jazz Odyssey of Thelonious Monk. Marcus Miller-drums, Miles Moslely-bass and Mahesh on keyboards

*Los Angeles – The William Grant Still Arts Center presents “The High Priest of Bop: The Jazz Odyssey of Thelonious Monk.” The exhibit is from the collections of Alden Kimbrough and other curated items. The exhibit will be on display until June 26, 2010. The Center is located at 2520 South Westview Street, two blocks east of Adams Blvd. and La Brea Ave. The 10 freeway exits near the center.

The exhibit opened on March 13 with a reception and musical performance by Marcus L. Miller Trio (Marcus on drums, Miles Mosley-bass and Mahesh Balasooriya on keyboards) and special guest saxophonist Benny Maupin and Kamasi Washington. The group played an hour long set of Monks compositions ” Well You Needn’t,” “April in Paris,” “Epistrophy,” “Round Midnight,” “Blue Monk,” and “Rhythm-A-Ning.” Kamau Daood recited an original poem “Swirl” that was composed for the occasion.

A capacity crowd was on hand to view the exhibit of photographs, paintings, album covers, concert posters, vintage jazz magazines, books and other curated items about Thelonious Sphere Monk for the opening reception. Musicians Phil Wright, Phil Ranelin, Rose Gales and tap dance master Chester Whitmore were a few of the jazz icons in attendance.

I wasn’t able to attend the curators walk through of the exhibit on March 27. Another curators walk through will be scheduled for a later date.

Additional events taking place in conjunction with the exhibit featured a panel on April 10. The title of the panel: “Discussion on the Impact of Monk and Contemporary Music” with Professor Steven Buchanan, Cal State Northridge Pan African Studies Department, Buddy Collette, Charles Owens and Phil Wright. These three musicians are legends in their own right. James Newton joined the panel for a few comments. Mr. Buchanan served as moderator and gave an outstanding overview of the life and legacy of Monk. Each agreed that Monk was a prolific genius when you consider the many compositions that he wrote.

Charles Owens stated “Monk wrote many challenging tunes with many difficult parts that challenged musicians interpreting his compositions.” Buddy Collette stated “Monk’s compositions contained various difficult rhythmic patterns.” Buddy also related that he arranged five tunes of Monk’s composition s for the Monterey Jazz Festival. If Monk ever got up and dance (swirl) to what you were playing, that was a sign that he enjoyed what you was doing” stated Buddy Collette. Phil Wright added “Monk took jazz standards like “Just You; Just Me” and arranged and played the tune in a way that took the tune into an entirely new direction.” He also stated “Monk was a master of space.”

I left the event with a greater understanding and respect for Thelonious Sphere Monk. The panel kept referencing two biographies about Monk. You can these two titles as well as additional titles on Amazon- Thelonious Monk-The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin D. G. Kelley and Straight No Chaser: The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk by Leslie Gourse.

The panel concluded by stating “Monk’s music is enduring, many younger artists are recording his tunes.”

On April 21 from 6-8:30PM the William Grant Still Arts Center will be screening two films “Thelonious Monk, American Composer,” and “Straight No Chaser.”

On another related note, April is Jazz Appreciation Month. The events at the William Grant Still Arts Center are a small sample of the hundreds of events taken place all across the United States. You can learn more about Jazz Appreciation Month and learn about some events that may be happening at/near at venue in your community. www.smithsonian.org. Also, visit www.monkinstitute.org to learn more about the Thelonious Monk Institute in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The William Grant Still Arts Center is a facility of the city of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (323) 734-1165. The current exhibit and events run through June 26, 2010.

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