Monk's Quirky Music

Monks Quirky Music  2011 / Studies set II  

"Misterioso" (Tire and Basketball Hoop) 3.5"x3.5" gelatin print

A Remembrance and Expression of Gratitude
A Visual Homage to Thelonious Monk and his Music

Selected photographs 
from the Studies Project 1994-2000   

I have written often about my Studies project, a large series of small 3.5x3.5" silver gelatin prints made from 1994-2000, and how the work was inspired by miniature piano pieces by both classical and contemporary composers.  But in 2011 I realized I had never before mentioned the great jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk as an influence on this work.  How could that have gone unstated for such a long time?  I know Monk was a direct influence on the Studies project though when I was making those photographs its possible I may not have consciously recognized it.  

I have listened to Thelonius Monk's music, especially his solo piano music, quite regularly since the 1980's.  It is always refreshing, rejuvenating, inspiring and comforting to me.  When no other music works for me I go back to Monk.  It is timeless and free.  During the period 1994-2000, when I was making the miniature photographs I surly must have been listening to Monk along with Bach, Shostakovitch, Bolcom, Ligeti and Kurtag, etc. 

Because Monk has been one of my constant companions, such an important presence in my life, I have created this new 2011 online project as a tribute to the man, his music, and the importance of Monk's music in my life.

Monk’s music is so full of joy and fun, invention and heartfelt directness.  Monk's music is always a surprise, even if I've heard the recording a million times.  It's at once a mix of the traditional (melody, stride) and radical, unpredictable abstraction.  He is without doubt one of the greatest pianists, and one of the greatest composers ever; a true genius.
I understand now that the confluence in his music of the classical-traditional and the abstract has been an ideal I have pursued throughout my photographic picture making career.  In other words, I have aspired toward a visual equivalence of his "quirky" music.  My project Studies 1994-2000, and the Garage Series 1999-2001, was an unconscious exploration of this ideal as I worked in a relative state of true liberation from most picture making conventions.  Everything was possible then, everything was permitted in the Studies project, from which the Monk pictures were carefully selected.

                                                       Monk, playing on a ladder,  Studies, 3.5" gelatin print

                                                       Monk's Starry sky (road salt), Studies,  3.5" gelatin print

What does that word “quirky” mean?  Eccentric, peculiar, idiosyncratic, a sudden sharp turn, unpredictable, far out, unconventional.  That word characterizes not only Monk’s music but also some of his infamous, very odd behavior.  For example, he often spinned, slowly, in a clock-wise direction -- like a whirling dervish -- while others in his band took solos.  

I love the strange spaces, the odd rhythmic changes, the surprising dissonances and in general the unpredictability of Monk’s music.  He was a master at hitting all the “wrong” notes, almost all of the time, in just the right way, so that it came out sounding just right.  Perfect.  Beautiful.  Monk insisted on being free to play what needed to be played, and he did it at any cost.  People have likened Monk's music to Webern and Charles Ives, two of my musical heroes.  I wanted to live in that creative ideal and the Studies project allowed me that freedom.   

Another of my musical heroes, Steve Lacy, was a student of Monk’s.  (Many have said, including Lacy, that Monk taught non verbally.  That is, there were musical conversations that took place between him and other musicians . . . without spoken words.)  Lacy was one of Monk’s greatest admirers, and one of the few who dared play Monk's compositions even while Monk was still alive.  In fact Lacy created several albums and entire concerts devoted completely to Monk’s music.

Interestingly, in 1977-78 I created a body of work in response to Steve Lacy's music click hereIt's not clear to me if it was through Lacy that I consciously discovered Monk.  Nonetheless, at long last, I am finally dedicating this large thematic group of my Studies photographs, entitled “Quirky Pictures”  to my beloved Theolonius Monk.  Thank you, Monk, for all that you have given me and the rest of the world through your music and your life.  These pictures are for you.  I remember you and share my love for you and your music though these photographs.

                                                       Monk's Footprints,  Studies,  3.5" gelatin print

                                                       Monk's Music written in the sun's reflection, Studies 3. 5"

The Quirky project  How it came into being
Between 1994 and 2000 I had collected a body of miniature Studies photographs that numbered close to a thousand edited prints.  As thematic groups formed themselves spontaneously during that time, I named the groups according to subject matter, technical and tonal characterizations, conceptual ideas, etc.  

There was a group of photographs I entitled “Quirky Pictures” which until now I had never associated with Monk and his music.  These were the odd-ball photographs that for the most part defied being placed in most of the other categories.  The quirky pictures tended to be more abstract or transformative; they might have lacked a nameable subject, or perhaps functioned within a radical tonal range.  They displayed in one way or another what to me was an unconventional way of seeing photographically.

I was talking to some people in mid September, 2011 about the influence of music on my work.  We got around to talking about jazz as an influence and I mentioned Steve Lacy and others, but eventually I brought up Monk as one of my absolute favorite composers and performers.  I said surprisingly: I have always wanted to honor Monk with a body of work but I could never figure out how to do it.  His music is so quirky.  

Shortly after that conversation, I was working on the web page for my Studies project, and as I was listing all the thematic group titles I could remember for the project . . . the term “quirky pictures” came up again in my mind as one of the thematic titles.  Excitedly, I looked through all the studies prints I still had in my possession and pulled out a selection of my favorite “quirky pictures” and considered those images in relation to my experience of Monk's music.  The equivalence between images and music worked perfectly for me.

In a way the entire Studies project is a celebration of Monk and his music, but I wanted to create a webpage dedicated to Monk, so the images you see here are a special selection from the larger 1994-2000 Studies series in his honor.  

                                                       Monk's creative energy (Thrown Straw-ball) Studies

                                                       Monk, Up and Down the keyboard,  Studies 3.5" gelatin print

Quotes about Monk and his Music
“Monk told me a note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.”  
Steve Lacy

“Monk taught us about playing in between the notes.  He said most guys play either slow, fast or medium--only three tempos, and we’re going to play between the three.”  
Ben Riley, Monk’s drummer for many years.

“Part of his fantastic power was to be able to absorb anything, use it himself and make it his own.”  
David Amram

Quotes by Monk
"I say, play your own way. Don't play what the public wants. You play what you want and let the public pick up on what you're doing - even if it does take them fifteen, twenty years."  

"If you really understand the meaning of be-bop, you understand the meaning of freedom."

"Jazz is my adventure.  I'm after new chords, new ways of syncopating, new figures, new runs. How to use notes differently. That's it. Just using notes differently."  

                                                      "Monk's notes are Diamonds, Rubies, Pearls" (Lacy) Studies

                                                       Monk's notes: Pebbles, Studies, 3.5" gelatin print

Monk's Quirky Composition Titles 
(16 of the 70 titles)

Let's Call This
Four in One
Criss Cross
Off Minor
Round Lights
Think of One
Trinkle Tinkle
Ugly Beauty
Monk's Dream
Who Knows
We See

                                                      Monk's odd musical space unfolding , Studies,  3.5"

                                                      Monk's Abstraction / Monk's Obstruction  Studies, 3.5" 

                                                      Monk's Screw,  Studies, 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk's sharp triads,  Studies, 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk's photo submerged in a puddle,  Studies, 3.5"

                                                      "Trinkle Tinkle"  Monk Studies, 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk riding a wild horse, Studies, 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk's view, riding a wild horse, Studies, 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      "Ugly Beauty"  Monk Studies, 3.5" gelatin print

                                                       Monk's fly, Studies, 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk's Dog,  Studies,  3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk Jr. became a drummer,  Studies, 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      "Reflections"  Monk  Studies, 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      "Introspection"  Monk  Studies (upside-down stairs)  3.5"

                                                      "Criss Cross" (Monk's intersecting streams)  Studies

                                                      Monk's Bubbler,  Studies,  3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk's Tear,  Studies,  3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk's Knot,  Studies, 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      "Think of One"  Monk Studies,  3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk's race,  Studies, 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      "Who Knows"  Monk Studies (Woman in Hat)  3.5"

                                                      "We See"  Monk  Studies (girl & sweater) 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk's black and white shadow  Studies, 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      "Off Minor" Monk Studies (cement blocks) 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      "Evidence"  Monk Studies  (parking lot) 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      "Four in One" Monk Studies (lake ice, dog legs) 3.5" 

                                                      "Epistrophy" Monk Studies (satellite disk) 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      "Let's Call This" Monk Studies (sand shadow) 3.5" gelatin

                                                      Monk's Truck, Studies  3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk's Fence (after being hit by a truck)  Studies 

                                                      "Round Lights" Monk Studies 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk's Smiling Garage,  Studies 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk's Weird Winter Window,  Studies 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk wrestling in the snow  Studies 3.5" gelatin print


                                                      Monk Shooting Hoops  Studies 3.5" gelatin print

                                                      Monk's Dream  (bird flying toward the light)  Studies 


In 2013 I completed a third set of Studies, 
for the first time in color imagery.
Visit  Studies III

Visit Related project titles:  
Studies  1994-2000 
Studies III : Color Photographs  2006-2013
Symmetrical Studies    
Other Music Inspired Projects  
Steve Lacy Series  1977-78

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.