Thelonious Monk made a couple of appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1975 and 1976 but other than that there was silence from the once prolific pianist. During this time he lived in New Jersey with his friend, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter.
Many conflicting stories have been put forward as to why Monk was absent. They range from drug theories, both his own use of them and the inadvertent taking of LSD; others talk of brain damage, most people agreed there were mental health issues. The fact is that he didn’t play in public, and those who appear to be in the know think he didn’t play in private either, after his 1976 Newport appearance, until he died in February 1982 from a stroke.
Whatever the theories, the circumstances or the truth, the one truth is that the world lost a great and gifted musician – a true jazz visionary. But he has left behind a body of work that offers a jazz landscape more diverse and more challenging than most of his contemporaries. Sure there are other jazz artists who played it obscure, but none of them played it half as well or half as interestingly as Thelonious Monk. The world is catching up with Monk. In 1993 he won a posthumous Grammy and in 2002 a Pulitzer Prize special citation. He’s no doubt up there, doing it straight. . .no chaser.