Thelonious Monk “Hackensack”

The music of Thelonious Monk is, for me, purely devotional and endlessly life-affirming. And I am devoted to it, as Monk was my doorway into jazz. In fact, I still remember where I was standing, at 15, in a friend’s makeshift photo darkroom when he dropped the needle on “Hackensack”, the first track on Criss Cross (still my all-time favorite). I was electrified by its playful melody, its willful dissonance, and its swinging take on the blues. Not to mention the lightning communication between Monk and his altoist Charlie Rouse: the greatest marriage of sense and sensibility since Duke Ellington found Johnny Hodges. In fact, no one save Ellington composed more melodies than Monk that sound now so utterly inevitable. I am reminded of the quote from Picasso where he said, “When I was 22 I could paint like Rembrandt, but it took my whole life to learn to paint like a child.”

To me, “Hackensack” is the sound of a man completely in control of his powers, but down on his knees like a kid, painting with his fingers.

Joe Henry