“Dizzy he was screaming
Next to O.P. who was beaming
Monk was thumping”
That’s how the percussive, syncopated lyrics Jon Hendricks sang vocalese / scat style to Thelonious Monks’ In Walked Bud begin. Countless recordings of the song out there. Monk revisited it himself many times. Find a good example on a classic 1968 album, Underground.
Drop a virtual needle in the groove, here. I’ll wait.
Why are we hearing this at my wake, nodding our heads affirmatively? Because the song, both words and lyrics, demonstrates and dramatizes – and sweetly – the joy in rhythm, the risk and thrill of improvisation and the emotional high we all get from collaboration. The song embodies the almighty creative force, one of the most powerful forces in nature, in a song about the thrill of creation. A jam session song… that actually jams.
Lest you think I take this too literally – hey, I’m kind of a word guy, that’s my spot – talk for a minute about the music that drives the words quoted above: the uptempo melody bounces downstairs, kind of a loose-limbed, patter down the steps, slide down the banister, jump down the elevator shaft take on Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies. Then it hits the pavement, swivels its hips under the streetlights, and snaps into the signature line that concludes the verse, Thelonious Monk style.
Thelonious Monk style? In other words, with a bit of a surprise… a touch of the strange, the unfamiliar, the challenging in its harmonies… and cooler than anyone has a right to be cool.
Listen to that change-up that ends the first verse while kicking it into the second:
“Suddenly in walked Bud and then they got into somethin’”
Do this for me at my wake, friends. Play this music loud. Prove the simple but profound equation that life is to be LIVED LARGE and when I say lived large I mean to say LIVED LARGE NOW.
Listen again, second verse trips down shaft…
“Oscar played a mean sax
Mr. Byers blew a mean axe
Monk was thumping”
So it can wind you up to shoot back up again…
“Suddenly in walked Bud
And then the joint started jumping”
For me, the real Thelonious heart and soul reveals itself in the next part, what I guess would be the B section, when the walking blues blue skies harmonies drop down into a bit of gutbucket blues. The contrast is a thrill, a challenge – it swings almost aggressively:
“Every hip stud really dug Bud
Soon as he hit town
Takin’ that note nobody wrote
Putting it down
And that “note nobody wrote?” That’s collaboration. That’s improvisation. That’s creation. And each player is here to do his best.
Even without the lyrics, you hear each musician swagger into the spotlight. Hendricks imagines an epic jazz showdown, with giants: Dizzy Gillespie, Don Byas, Oscar Pettiford, Max Roach and of course, Monk. If you saw one of those guys with company on stage, you’d be amazed. Tonight, they’re all there. (LIVE LARGE, CELEBRATE TOGETHER)
And how much respect is Monk paying to Bud Powell in this eponymous tribute? Well, first imagine the sound of those… titans!
And then in walked Bud.
And then the joint started jumping.
I know I’m not overstating Monk’s friendship for Powell. Monk lost his cabaret license, essentially losing the right to perform for a living in his home town, because he chose to stick by his friend in a drug bust. But I don’t want to retell the biographies of Monk, Hendricks, or Powell, really, because I think this is such a good example of a song speaking for itself.
Monk’s music is a passion for me. I first heard him played by Herbie Hancock’s Round Midnight soundtrack, then Carmen McRae’s all-star band recording of this tune. Those led me to Monk and his music, himself, and once I heard Monk by Monk, I had a new favorite in American Music.
I’ve even had to defend my appreciation of his uncanny timing and unique harmonic choices, arguing with the musically sophisticated and the musically dull alike that there is not merely one way to count in music. Monk stretched syncopation to the breaking point. He grabbed at notes with his fists at times, or so it seemed. He opened up huge spaces in between notes that tell their own stories, as interesting as the tones you do hear.
My first wife used to complain that she liked Monk’s tunes, but they had too many “mistakes.” Hey, Monk didn’t dub one of his haunting melodies Ugly Beauty for nothing.
You may have seen the man on video. Monk himself said, “Sometimes it’s to your advantage for people to think you’re crazy,” so I think he cultivated a bit of a “Brother From Another Planet” act at times. I think it helped him keep people at bay so he could take care of his business, which was the business of creating uncommonly original music that touches the mind, the soul and the body.
So when we rock out of the gutbucket “B” section, signing about that note nobody wrote with a challenge to all, we go back neatly to the top, LIVING EXTRA LARGE NOW…
“Dizzy he was screaming
Next to O. P. who was beaming
Monk was thumping
Suddenly in walked Bud
And then they got into something.”
-In Walked Bud, Words Jon Hendricks, Music Thelonious Monk
Quinn gets asked why he calls his blog In Walked Quinn. Now you know. He’s such a big Monk fan that when he invented a fictional but scientific basis for time travel in the Motown Machineworks comics line, he based the fluidity of the rules of time on Monk’s music. 99 SONGS I WANNA HEAR AT MY WAKE will continue. You’re all invited. Bar’s open.