Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser. Filmmaker Bruce Ricker couldn't believe his luck. Michael and Christian Blackwood's extensive 1968 footage of the groundbreaking modern jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, includ... more »ing the only footage of the very private Monk off stage, was in excellent condition. The reels were, in Ricker's words, "just sitting there like the Dead Sea Scrolls of jazz." Ricker, as co-producer, joins director and fellow producer Charlotte Zwerin (Gimme Shelter), executive producer Clint Eastwood and others to bring these scrolls to astonishing life. Their Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser combines the Blackwood's rare footage of Monk in studio on tour and behind the scenes with new interviews, archival photos and more to create a landmark aural and visual treat.Tunes in order of appearance: Evidence; Rhythm-a-ning; On the Bean; Round Midnight; Well, You Needn't; Bright Mississippi; Blue Monk; Trinkle, Tinkle; Rhythm-a-ning; Ugly Beauty; Ask Me Now; Just a Gigolo; Crepuscule with Nellie; I Should Care; We See; Osaka T.; Evidence; Epistrophy, Don't Blame Me; Ruby, My Dear; I Mean You; Lulu's Back in Town; Off Minor; Pannonica; Boo Boo's Birthday; Misterioso; Monk's Mood; Sweetheart of All My Dreams; Round Midnight. Year: 1988 Director: Charlotte Zwerin« less
"Here it is-Clint Eastwood's *other* jazz film. The core of this biographical documentary about the innovative pianist and co-founder of bebop Thelonious Monk is footage of a recording date and tour from 1968, plus priceless scenes of Monk offstage. Filmmaker Bruce Ricker lets the 1968 film, shot by Michael and Christian Blackwood, speak for itself, interspersing stills, interviews, and some equally priceless early Fifties television footage. The 1968 film is shot in gorgeous black and white; the dark smoky club is especially impressive, visually.Monk himself is imposing in black and white, with his greatcoat, pointy beard, and assorted headwear. In one scene he rolls into the recording studio wearing a lensless eyeglass frame and a Polish cavalry officer's cap. He shambles through the film, all sweat and bulk and cigarettes and raspy voice. There are a couple of great shots of his distinctive, spinning dancing, full of little surprises.The recording studio scene is fascinating on a couple of levels. We get to see Monk and sax sideman Charlie Rouse go over the score of a song together. But we are also reminded that this is the late Sixties, when jazz isn't selling, and Monk is not a legend yet. The clueless producer and recording engineer, while friendly, keep telling him to play something to warm up, and then neglecting to record it. Monk finally loses patience and stomps off to a corner to angrily suck down a cigarette.The film also records a European tour, which also has its problems. The octet that is supplied to him for the tour is oversized and under-rehearsed. They learn their parts on the plane to London, and can't get it together onstage the first night there. Much to the band's embarrassment, Monk has to stop songs to get everyone back on track. But in a day or two they shine, and receive rapturous applause.The tour has its lighter moments. Perhaps the funniest moment is Monk lying in his bed in a Copenhagen hotel, trying to get his familiar down home cooking from room service. "Say, man; you got any chicken livers?" "Umm...Ve haff chicken sahlad." "You got any regular liver?" "Regular..." "Beef liver?" "Umm...Ja, ve haff beef liffer."Here and there we meet a surprise guest. Some late Fifties/early Sixties New York club concert footage shows a room full of heavy-lidded white hipsters enjoying music by Monk and none other than John Coltrane. In a club kitchen, Monk clowns with Baroness Nica, who befriended many jazz musicians and in whose apartment Charlie Parker died. There's a montage of his records, including _Underground_, which boasts the single coolest album cover in the history of recorded music. The interview segments, with T. S. Monk, Jr. and Monk's manager are touching, giving insight as to how Monk struggled with the black dog, depression. And a couple of greybeards play some of Monk's music arranged for two pianos. It's lovely, fitting for the tribute it is. Just like this film."
"Why nobody just wanna do what I ask 'em to do?!"
Daniel Fineberg | Northridge, California USA | 09/12/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"So exclaims a frustrated Monk during a late 1960s Columbia recording session, after finishing a haunting run-through of "Ugly Beauty" and learning that producer Teo Macero neglected to record it. The movie is filled with wonderful private moments like these, though I can't say how much interest it will hold for those not familiar with Monk. For me, however, and for many others who are infatuated with him and his music, the footage in this documentary is gold. The character of Monk is rounded out for us, and we find that he was just as unique and strange in his life as he was in his music. He was truly in his own world, and though for 90 minutes we see him up close, with his musicians, with his wife Nellie, with the Baroness Nica, see his bizarre behavior backstage, at the airport, in the hotel, we are no closer to getting inside his head. For that, one simply needs to hear the music.
And the music collected in the movie is astonishing--An early television appearance where Monk is miffed by Count Basie staring at him across the piano during a performance...several shows with a quartet including Charlie Rouse...great footage of the big band sessions of the mid 60s, with Rouse, Johnny Griffin, and Phil Woods scrambling to learn the arrangements...and the great Columbia session, where Monk becomes visibly annoyed, but still has time for a wonderfully tender moment with pal Teo. There are interviews with Monk's managers, his son, Charlie Rouse, and a fine piano duet of "Well You Needn't" by Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris, reminding one and all that not only was Monk one of the most distinctive piano players in jazz, but that, along with Ellington and Charles Mingus, he was one of the most brilliant composers as well."
A Butterfly they tried to catch
Mr. DS Graham | London, UK | 05/16/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Straight No Chaser" offers an abundance of wonderful footage of Thelonious Monk in concert, in transit, at home, in rehearsal, eating, sleeping, spinning in circles, in the studio, signing autographs and of course creating magic at the keyboard. Watching this film is like watching the weather on any given day. At one moment it's cloudy and grey, the next sunny and blue and in between anything could happen, and does. Monk clearly had serious and long term mental health problems, but the music the man created is his real legacy and there is plenty of it here. Towards the end of the film Milt Jackson, Art Farmer, Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris try to work out the chord progression to one on Monk's songs and as things get more and more complex Milt Jackson (who played with Monk) simply smiles to himself with a combination of perplexity and amusement at the sheer genius of the music.The excitement and sense of discovery one feels in witnessing this precious footage does become tempered by the lack of insight into the nature of his music and the full impact of it upon other musicians. The interviews are revealing, especially Harry Colomby (Monk's manager) and a visibly emotional TS Monk Jr. who with understandable difficulty recalls his father's mental problems. Ultimately though, the uniqueness of Thelonious Monk's music shines through. His television performance of "Just A Gigolo" about half way through is inspiringly honest, utterly sincere (even in it's sardonic humour) and completely absorbing.Monk's most lasting musical legacy was probably his honesty as a musician and as a man, the rarest quality of all."
Chicken dumplins in Denmark?
Andy Williamson | Chicago, IL | 11/11/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Alas, pianist Thelonious Monk was unable to acquire chicken dumplins in Copenhagen during a tour stop. The room service waiter kindly offered him chicken salad. He also ordered mashed potatoes. Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917-1982) is generally credited with inventing what we call be-bop, that fiery brand of jazz that emerged post WW II with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and others. Be-bop sounded the death-knell of big band/swing like Glenn Miller and Woody Herman. Monk was there at the forefront although it would be years before he garnered the acceptance or credit he deserved. Bouts with mental illness also hampered Monk from time to time. He was hospitalized numerous times. This DVD compiles FASCINATING black and white footage of Monk during his 1968 tour. We see Monk smoking, Monk talking and laughing, Monk recording, Monk yelling at Teo Macero ("Why can't nobody do what I tell 'em to do!" an exasperated Monk yells after learning that Macero-in the control booth-failed to record the song the group had just finished), Monk with his wife Nellie, Monk on the street, getting dressed, spinning in circles etc. This is truly amazing footage folks. If only we had such a visual document for every great jazz artist.The dialogue is very interesting. Monk himself is often hard to understand, his words often seem to run together. But I was able to understand enough. There are interviews with musicians and managers and others. It is great to see Monk's main saxophonist, Charlie Rouse, commenting on his friend. In one of the highlights of the film we see Monk rehearsing his group prior to a London performance. It is awesome to watch Monk lead Rouse, Phil Woods, and Johnny Griffin (!) thru the chord and tempo changes. Wow. It's also great to *hear* so much great music in a film. This is almost a musical in that sense. We don't get any extras except a trailer here, but the strength of the film itself would make it a five star purchase if nothing else were on the disc.Essential."
THE Monk documentary
Patrik Lemberg | Tammisaari Finland | 04/17/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Whenever a jazz history TV program is shown, we are usually treated with very little Monk; there's mostly just that short footage of him wearing slim sunglasses, sitting on a fold-out chair playing the piano and stomping his foot sideways. I had never even heard Monk talk prior to this presentation of him...good thing there are subtitles on the DVD ;) Watching this highly informative and well presented 90 minute documentary about Thelonious Monk and his music got me so excited that I had to throw on the old "Straight No Chaser" record when it was over - I guess I actually needed a chaser. A common mistake in presentations of musical documentaries is that there isn't enough music; people usually talk over it, but that is NOT the case here, as footage from recording sessions and concerts are distinctly kept apart from interviews, which is a big plus. It is not one of these hysterically edited hyper-modern presentations, which a lot of documentaries tend to be these days. This relief aside, there is something that isn't much discussed here, though, and that are the highlights of Monk's career; when he had success with certain compositions or recordings,--or even which recordings that were successful--he's more presented "on the whole," even though the documentary basically is chronological. There is, however, a "Monk Career Highlights" feature in text, but it's very short - the career-highlight feature of executive producer Clint Eastwood is twice as long. "Straight No Chaser" is probably the most informative documentary made of Monk so far. The disc also features a short theatrical trailer and subtitles in four different languages, plus there are no problems with either audio or picture, which is nice and unusual. Highly recommended! 4.5 stars!"