Below is a list of all known original compositions by Thelonious Monk. A few have never been recorded and therefore may not be familiar to Monk fans. Copyright dates give us an approximate date as to when Monk might have composed these works, but it is impossible to know for sure. Furthermore, Monks compositions are legendary for having alternate titles. All of Monks music is copyrighted by Thelonious Music Corp., administered by Second Floor Music. Musicians and anyone interested in learning more about Monks music should consult the excellent Thelonious Monk Fake Book, edited by Don Sickler (Hal Leonard 2002).
Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-Are (aka Bolivar Blues)-First recorded October 9, 1956 (Riverside LP12-226) The title refers to the Hotel Bolivar in Manhattan, then the home of the Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter.
Bemsha Swing-Co-written Denzil Best, it was sometimes referred to as Bimsha Swing and even recorded under that title by trombonist J. J. Johnso. Monk first recorded Bemsha Swing on December 18, 1952 (Prestige LP7027).
Bluehawk - This solo piano blues was only recorded once, on October 22, 1959, in San Francisco (Riverside RLP12-312)
recorded Blue Monk more than any other composition besides
Round Midnight. His first recording dates back to
September 22, 1954 (Prestige PRLP 189 LP7027).
Blues Five Spot (aka
Five Spot Blues)-First recorded
July 9, 1958 (Milestone M-9124, Riverside RIV-4005/5), the title refers
to the Five Spot Café, where Monk was playing when he recorded
this song for the first time. It was originally located at Five Cooper
Square in the East Village, until it moved to Third Avenue and East
Bolivar Blues (see Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-Are)
Boo Boos Birthday-Recorded only once, on December 21, 1967 (Columbia CS9632), Monk wrote this song for his daughter Barbara, whose nickname was Boo Boo.
Brakes Sake-First recorded on October 15, 1955 (Signal S1201), with a quartet led by alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce.
Bright Mississippi -first recorded on May 10, 1961 (Ingo 8) at a concert in Berne, Switzerland. It is a completely original melody based loosely on the chord changes of Sweet Georgia Brown.
Brilliant Corners-First recorded on October 15, 1956 (Riverside RLP12-226), this composition proved notoriously difficult for Monks band, which included Sonny Rollins (tenor), Ernie Henry (alto), Oscar Pettiford (bass), and Max Roach (drums). After twenty-five attempts, the final recorded version consisted of parts of various takes spliced together. It was recorded only one other time, on November 20, 1968, with Oliver Nelsons Orchestra (Columbia CS9806).
Bye-ya-First recorded on October 15, 1952 (Prestige 795 LP7027), it is unique for its Caribbean-inflected rhythms.
Childrens Song (aka That Old Man)-Recorded once on October 7, 1964, it is Monkishly altered version of the traditional ditty, This Old Man, also known as The Childrens Marching Song.
Chordially-Recorded only once in London on November 15, 1971 (Black Lion CD760142), it is not a composition, per se, but a very musical and coherent improvised warm-up exercise on solo piano. It was not released on the original LP because it was not considered to be a song. But just about everything Monk plays possesses the quality of a complete composition.
Coming on the Hudson-First recorded on February 25, 1958, at a session led by Johnny Griffin (Milestones M-9124, Riverside RIV-4005/4), Monk secured a copyright on December 22nd of that year (Jazz Standard Music Publishers). Monk lived a couple of blocks from the Hudson River for most of his life and enjoyed the sound of the various boats coming on the Hudson.
Crepuscule with Nellie-First
recorded on June 25, 1957 (although the first released take was recorded
the following day [Riverside RLP12-242]), this beautiful ballad is unusual
in that it is his only composition played straight through without improvisation.
Crepuscule was written in 1957 while Nellie was in the hospital
to undergo surgery. Monk had come up with the title Twilight with
Nellie but the Baroness, who was at the hospital at the time,
promptly suggested the French word for twilight: crépuscule.
Criss Cross-First recorded on July 23, 1951 (Blue Note 1590, 1509), critic and composer Gunther Schuller called it the Monk masterpiece of this period. So enthused with Criss Cross, Schuller used it as the basis for his tribute to Monk titled Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk (1960).
of Monks earliest compositions, it was co-written with drummer
Kenny Clarke and went by various names; Clarke called it Fly Right or
Fly Rite, it was called Iambic Pentameter, and known, too, as simply
The Theme since it was used by Mintons House band
to open and close a set. It was first recorded by the Mintons
House band on June 7, 1941, but the first version by Monk issued appeared
on his first Blue Note recordings (July 2, 1948, Blue Note 548, 1510).
Eronel-an unusually boppish tune for Monk, was co-written with pianist Sadik Hakim (Argonne Thornton) and trumpeter Idrees Sulieman, and first recorded on July 23, 1951 (Blue Note 1590, 1509). Eronel was named after Lenore Eisner, whom Sadik Hakim was dating at the time. Initially, neither Hakim nor Sulieman were given co-composers credit, but since then their names have been restored as original co-authors.
Evidence-First recorded on July 2, 1948 (Blue Note 549, 1509), it went by various names, notably Justice and We Named it Justice. It puns off of the song on which it was loosely based, Just You, Just Me (by Jesse Greer and Raymond Klages), which transforms the title to Just Us, which in turn became Justice and ultimately Evidence.
Feeling That Way Now (see Monks Mood)
52nd Street Theme-Ironically, Monk never recorded 52nd Street Theme. Also known as Nameless, and simply The Theme, it was widely used as a vehicle for Dizzy Gillespies various bands, among others.
Five Spot Blues (see Blues Five Spot)
Five Will Get You Ten (see Two Timer)
Fly Right (see Epistrophy)
Four in One-First recorded on July 23, 1951 (Blue Note 1589), Four in One was known to have a particularly treacherous melody built on sixteenth note phrases (hence the name-a quarter note [one beat] divided into sixteenth notes [four beats]).
Friday the Thirteenth-First recorded on Friday the 13th, 1953, it refers not only to the day but the turn of events-tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins was delayed because of a car accident and trumpeter Ray Copeland fell ill and French horn virtuoso Julius Watkins had to fill in at the last minute. The result was a remarkable session, including a swinging interpretation of this deceptively simple repeating bar theme.
Functional-There are actually two different versions of the blues given the title Functional, which was probably just a name made up on the spot. Both takes were recorded the same day, April 16, 1957, and never recorded again. According to one report, after hearing a playback of one of his takes of Functional, he said: Well, that sounds like James P. Johnson. Johnson, one of the great Harlem stride pianists, was one of Monks musical heroes.
Gallops Gallop-First recorded on October 15, 1955, with Gigi Gryce as leader. This incredibly complicated melody was only recorded one other time, in November of 1964 when Monks quartet played at the It Club in Los Angeles.
Green Chimneys-Another one of Monks later compositions, it was first recorded on November 14, 1966, although this particular take was not released until 1996. The take that was released initially was recorded a year later, on December 14, 1967 (Columbia CS9632). Green Chimneys is named after the school Barbara Monk attended at the time-a progressive private boarding school located in Putnam County, New York.
Hackensack-First recorded on May 11, 1954 (Prestige PRLP 180), it was also the first day Monk recorded in Rudy Van Gelders famous studio in Hackensack, New Jersey (hence the title). Hackensack bears some resemblance to a Coleman Hawkins composition he must have played when he was with Hawks band, and an arrangement of Lady Be Good by Mary Lou Williams.
Harlem is Awful Messy-Co-written with Oran Hot Lips Page and Joe Guy, this hilarious jump tune (with lyrics!) was never recorded. It was copyrighted by the trio on September 16, 1941.
Hornin In-Recorded only one time (four takes), on May 30, 1952, during his last session for Blue Note as a leader. His sextet consisted of an all-star line up: Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Lou Donaldson (alto); Lucky Thompson (tenor), Nelson Boyd (bass), Max Roach (drums). It first appeared on Blue Note 1603.
Humph-Another early classic, Humph was only recorded once (three takes) during Monks first recording session as a leader (October 15, 1947). It first appeared on Blue Note 560.
I Mean You (aka Stickball)-First
recorded in December of 1946 by Coleman Hawkins, not Monk. The band
included Fats Navarro on trumpet and J. J. Johnson on trombone, and
in the piano stool was a very young Hank Jones fresh from Detroit. It
would be another year and a half before Monk recorded I Mean You
(July 2, 1948 [Blue Note 1564, 1510].
Iambic Pentameter (see Epistrophy)
Introspection (aka Playhouse)-Originally titled Playhouse as a tribute to Mintons, this song was first recorded for Blue Note on October 24, 1947, but was not released until 1956! Monk wrote it during his association with Dizzy Gillespies big band and Walter Gil Fuller wrote an arrangement of Playhouse, but there is no record of the band recording it, let alone playing it. Its unusual thirty-six bar structure and wandering chord progressions set it apart from the music identified as bebop.
In Walked Bud-First
recorded on November 21, 1947 (Blue Note 548), it was written for Monks
very good friend, pianist Bud Powell. It is based on the chord changes
for Irving Berlins Blue Skies.
Jackie-ing-First recorded on June 4, 1959 (Riverside RLP12-305), Monk named this song after his niece, Jackie Smith. This sixteen bar theme is written as a dynamic, processional march, but after the melody is stated it swings extremely hard. After 1960, Jackie-ing became a regular part of the Monk quartets live repertoire.
Lets Call This-First recorded on November 13, 1953, on that famous Friday the Thirteenth date (see above), and released on Prestige PRLP 166. Another one of Monks remarkable compositions, he only recorded it one other time: live at the Blackhawk in San Francisco on April 29, 1960 (Riverside RLP12-323). His quartet expanded to a sextet with the addition of Joe Gordon and Harold Land, and Billy Higgins sat in on the drums. It is doubtful that anyone had much time to rehearse Lets Call This, which had not been part of the bands repertoire. Nevertheless, they turn in excellent results.
Lets Cool One-First
recorded in on May 30, 1952 (Blue Note 1602, 1511), it was probably
given that name because it is a relaxed, medium tempo tune without a
lot of intervallic leaps. The songs recorded just prior to Lets
Cool One were complex, up tempo tunes like Skippy
(three takes) Hornin In (two takes), and Sixteen
(two takes), which apparently required a lot more work-even from a band
made up of bebops top musicians. Lets Cool One
was done in one take.
Light Blue-The first recorded evidence of this tune comes from a radio broadcast from Peps Music Lounge in Philadelphia, where Monk led a trio on February 9, 1957, consisting of Jimmy Bond and bass and Albert Tootie Heath on drums. Interestingly, the first official recording of Light Blue was also live, this time at the Five Spot Café on August 7, 1958. It is not a blues but rather a sixteen-bar theme played at a slow, plodding tempo built on descending chord progressions.
Little Rootie Tootie-First recorded on October 15, 1952 (Prestige 850), was named for Monks son, Thelonious, Jr., who was two years old at the time. He earned the nickname "Toot" after "Little Toot the Tugboat" from a favorite Walt Disney cartoon; young Thelonious learned to whistle-like "Little Toot"-before he learned to talk. The song has also been associated with the sound of the railroad, a common motif in blues and jazz since the early part of the century. (See Monks Locomotive.)
Locomotive-First recorded on May 11, 1954 (Prestige PRLP 180), it is definitely in the tradition of train recordings going back to Count Basie, Ellington, and the train-whistle guitar blues of the early part of the century. Built on an odd 20-bar chorus and played as a medium-slow tempo, rhythmically and melodically it captures the motion of the old steam engines steadily chugging down the railroad line. Monk only made one other recording of Locomotive. . . twelve years later (Columbia CL2651)
Manganese (see We See)
Manhattan Moods (see Ruby, My Dear)
A Merrier Christmas-The only evidence of Monk playing this song is from a private recording made at the home of Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter around December of 1972. It is also the only recording of Monk singing.
spelled Mysterioso)-One of Monks
most famous blues compositions, it was first recorded on July 2, 1948
(Blue Note 1510). The melody is distinctive in that its built
on even eighth notes of ascending and descending parallel sixths. The
most famous recording of Misterioso was made by Sonny Rollins
and includes both Monk and pianist Horace Silver taking turns at the
keyboard! Rollinss solo has been hailed by critics as a masterpiece.
First recorded on October 15, 1952 (Prestige 850), like Bye-ya, this
is another strongly Caribbean flavored composition.
of Monks early ballads, he gave it several different titles before
settling on Monks Mood, (i.e., Thats the Way
I Feel Now, Feeling that Way Now, Why Do You Evade the Facts, and Be
Merrier Sarah). He had conceived of the song with lyrics. Monk first
recorded Monks Mood on November 21, 1947 (Blue Note
Monks Point-Recorded only twice, once as a solo piano piece (November 2, 1964 [Columbia CL2349]) and again with Oliver Nelsons Orchestra (November 19, 1968 [Columbia CS9806]), it is a fairly straight forward twelve-bar blues in Bb full of Monks signature minor seconds in the melody.
North of the Sunset-Recorded only once on October 31, 1964, it is a twelve-bar blues whose melody is very close to Monks Point. It was also written in Bb.
Nutty-First recorded on September 22, 1954, in a trio setting with Percy Heath (bass) and Art Blakey (drums), Nutty was among Monks more popular tunes. Perhaps the most famous recording of it is with John Coltrane, July 1957 (Jazzland JLP46). A few writers have strangely tried to link the title to Monks alleged state of mind (!), but any such claims betrays an ignorance of the hip lingo of the day. In the 1940s and 50s (and even later), nutty commonly meant excellent or cool-like insane, mad, and crazy.
Off Minor (aka What Now)-Was actually first recorded in January of 1947, but not by Monk. Bud Powell was the first to put Off Minor on wax when he was with Cootie Williamss Orchestra. Monk first recorded it on October 24, 1947 (Blue Note ). Also, Dizzy Gillespies big band had intended on using it in their book. It stands among Monks more frequently recorded tunes. It is so named probably because it is written in G minor but never resolves on the tonic.
Oska T-First recorded on December 30, 1963, during Monks famous Town Hall concert (Columbia ), there are many different stories in circulation explaining this title. The most common is that its Monks impersonation of a bourgeois Englishman saying ask for tea.
released recording was made on October 9, 1956 (Riverside RLP12-226).
The song was written for the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, whom
Monk had met in Paris in June of 1954. This first recorded version of
Pannonica is significant in that Monk plays both piano and
Played Twice-First recorded on June 1, 1959 (Riverside RLP12-305), the title refers to the structure of the song itself. It is a rhythmically complex, sixteen-bar AABC theme based on a series of repeated phrases or echoes that fall in different places in the meter. And like many Monk tunes, it begins in one key ( C ) and ends on another (D).
Playhouse (see Introspection)
Portrait of an Eremite (see Reflections)
Raise Four-Only recorded once, on Valentines Day, 1968 (Columbia CS9632), Monk probably wrote this in the studio. Reminiscent of North of the Sunset and Monks Point, Raise Four is a basic twelve-bar blues but built on Monks signature harmonies-the augmented fourth, also known as the flatted fifth or the tritone. It is the interval that divides the diatonic scale in half and tends to be the most dissonant and unstable. If anything, this song is a paean to the augmented fourth-hence the title.
recorded on December 18, 1952 (Prestige LP 7027), it was not issued
until 1956. Although it is often thought of as a ballad, Monk originally
played it at medium tempo. Even his solo version of Reflections,
recorded on Paris in 1954 (Vogue), was delivered just slightly slower
than his Prestige trio version. But when he recorded it with Sonny Rollins
in 1957 (Blue Note 1558)-perhaps the best known version-he turned it
into a lovely ballad. The dynamic interplay between Monk and Rollins
on this recording has been commented upon and studied by critics for
decades. According to discographer Chris Sheridan, the alternative title
of Portrait of an Eremite was given by French producer André
Francis because he wasnt given the proper title. Eremite or ermite,
in French, means hermit.
of Monks most recorded and performed songs, he doesnt actually
put it on wax under this title until May 15, 1957, at a recording session
led by drummer Art Blakey (Atlantic 1278). Monk certainly made the melody
his own, but the truth is that the A section of Rhythm-a-ning
can be heard as early as 1936, on Mary Lou Williamss arrangement
of Walking and Swinging twenty-six bars into the second
chorus. The same melodic line was claimed by guitarist Charlie Christian
(with whom Monk played at Mintons Playhouse) as Pagin Doctor
Christian or Meet Dr. Christian, by Al Haig as Opus Caprice,
and by Sonny Stitt as Symphony Hall Swing. Indeed, on one
recording from Mintons in 1941, Monk is identified as the pianist
on a version of the song listed as Meet Dr. Christian. But in the end,
Monk would eventually seize ownership of the tune and make it distinctively
his own. The title, of course, references the fact that it is based
on the chord changes to Gershwins I Got Rhythm, popularly
known in the bebop world as rhythm changes.
Round Lights-Recorded once on October 21, 1959, in San Francisco (Riverside RLP12-312), Round Lights is a slow, twelve-bar blues for solo piano.
(aka Round About Midnight and Grand Finale)-Certainly
the most recorded Thelonious Monk song of all time, Monk was not the
first to record it. Cootie Williamss Orchestra recorded it in
1944 and used it as their theme song. He also took co-composer credit
for Round Midnight despite not having contributed anything
to the score. Bernie Hanighen added lyrics and suddenly Monk was forced
to share composer credit (and royalties) with two other people. In 1946,
Dizzy Gillespie added his famous introduction and cadenza for his big
band arrangement, which proved so popular that Monk added it (albeit
an altered version) to his own performance of Round Midnight.
It is now a standard part of the song. Monk first recorded it as a leader
on November 21, 1947 (Blue Note 543).
Ruby, My Dear (aka Manhattan
Moods)-A beautiful ballad and
one of Monks best known compositions, it was written originally
for his then girlfriend, Ruby Richardson. Monk was probably still a
teenager when he composed Ruby, My Dear.
San Francisco Holiday (aka Worry Later)-First recorded on April 28, 1960, at the Blackhawk in San Francisco (Riverside RLP12-323), Monk had given it the title Worry Later initially as a response to Orrin Keepnewss question as to what to call it. Eventually, he settled on San Francisco Holiday to the fact that his West Coast gig proved to be a kind of family vacation.
Shuffle Boil-First recorded with the Gigi Gryce quartet on October 15, 1955 (Signal S1201), the song was then resurrected in 1964 and, for about a year, became part of the bands repertoire. With its wide intervallic leaps, Shuffle Boil was particularly treacherous for tenor saxophonists since the highest notes are outside of the horns range. Some sources suggest that Monk taught Charlie Rouse how to achieve these notes through false fingering.
Sixteen-Recorded only once (two takes), at the Blue Note session of May 30, 1952, but it was not released until many years later, when Blue Note decided to issue Monks complete recordings. The title seemed temporary; it referred to the sixteen bar AABA structure of the song, but that is what Monk wrote on the sheet music. A complex, angular melody based on chord changes similar to those of Sonny Rollinss Doxy, it proved a formidable challenge for great musicians such as Kenny Dorham, Lou Donaldson, and Lucky Thompson.
Skippy-Named after Nellies sister, this song was ecorded only once (three takes), on May 30, 1952 (Blue Note 1602, 1511). It is a rare example of an uptempo Monk composition. The A section is particularly difficult, which may explain why the horns only play the entire melody on the out chorus and not at the beginning. Whatever the case, it is interesting to note that Monk never returned to these more boppish tunes such as Skippy, Sixteen and Humph.
Something in Blue-Recorded in London on November 15, 1971 (Black Lion BLP 30119), another classic, slow, solo blues played in Monks unorthodox stride piano style.
Straight, No Chaser-Recorded
July 23, 1951 (Blue Note 1589, 1511), it is only the second blues Monk
recorded-Misterioso being the first. Like Misterioso, Straight, No Chaser
is not like other blues in that the melody breaks with the typical four-bar
phrasing and extends beyond the bar line. It is also the only blues
he recorded in F (all others, including a few versions of Straight
No Chaser, are in Bb). It has become a true standard in jazz repertoire.
Stuffy Turkey-First recorded on January 30, 1964 (Columbia CL2184), this Monk original is frequently confused with Coleman Hawkinss and Sir Charles Thompsons Stuffy. Although both songs are based on rhythm changes, the melodies are quite different. Bud Powell also acknowledges Monks authorship of Stuffy Turkey in a home recording of it in Paris in February of 1964, just two weeks after Monk took it into the studio for Columbia records. These home recordings, a tribute to Monks music, were made around the time of Monks European tour.
Teo-First recorded on March 9, 1964 (Columbia CL2291), Teo was written for Monks producer at the time, Teo Macero. Based on Eddie Durhams Topsy-a favorite back in the days of Mintons Playhouse recast as Swing to Bop-it should not be confused with Miles Daviss Spanish-tinged Teo, which he wrote for Macero in 1961. Macero also produced Miles at Columbia records.
Thelonious-First recorded on October 15, 1947 (Blue Note 542), it is a brilliant example of Monks use of ostinato (a short phrase repeated throughout a composition). Based on the reiteration of a single note (Bb) played over descending chord progressions, the song has an unusual 36-bar AABA structure: the second and last A sections are 10 measures long rather than the more traditional eight measures. Thelonious is widely regarded as one of Monks classic compositions.
Think of One-First
recorded on November 13, 1953 (the infamous Friday the Thirteenth
session) and released on Prestige (PRLP 166), Think of One shares many
features with Thelonious-notably, Monks use of ostinato. It is
based on one note repeated over a stoptime rhythm in the A section,
which releases to a swinging bridge. Think of One has not been recorded
many times, nor have many artists explored this part of Monks
Trinkle Tinkle-First recorded in a trio setting on December 18, 1952 (Prestige 838), the best known version of Trinkle Tinkle was made with John Coltrane in July of 1957 (Jazzland JLP46). Like Work and Four in One, it has an extremely difficult melody for a horn player (or for any instrumentalist, for that matter), replete with sixteenth note runs and very angular phrasing. The Monk/Coltrane version is considered by many critics to be among the essential jazz recordings of all times. There are mixed stories behind the title; producer Ira Gitler believes he might have misunderstood Monk who may have said Twinkle, Twinkle instead of what he heard. On the other hand, all the great stride pianists with whom Monk identified called themselves ticklers, so it might have been a playful corruption of that word. Either way, Monk continued to use Trinkle Tinkle long after the 1952 recording.
Two Timer (aka Five Will Get You Ten)-Monk himself never recorded this composition, which he apparently wrote in the late 1950s. Pianist Sonny Clark, who turned to Monk a few times when his heroin addition left him broke and virtually homeless, somehow got a hold of the music. Either Monk gave him the song (along with money) to help him get by, or Clark found it in Monks house. Whatever happened, Clark ended up taking composers credit and recorded it in a session led by alto saxophonist Jackie McLean in October 1961 as Five will Get You Ten. The first to record Two Timer under its original title was T. S. Monk, who had discovered the original manuscript among his fathers papers. His version appears on Monk on Monk (N2KE - 10017)
first known recording of Ugly Beauty took place on November 14, 1967,
for a taped television broadcast. Exactly one month later, Monks
quartet made their only studio recording of this song (Columbia CS9632).
Ugly Beauty is significant in that it is Monks only composed waltz;
he arranged a wonderful version of Benny Davis and Joe Burkes
Carolina Moon in 6/4 time for Blue Note in 1952, but that was the only
recorded evidence we have of Monk exploring waltz time.
Well You Neednt-First recorded for Blue Note (549) on October 24, 1947, it is one of Monks most recorded and most popular tunes, and a very good example of Monks penchant for chromatic harmonic motion.
We See (aka Manganese)-First recorded on May 11, 1954 (Prestige PRLP 180), the bouncy, medium tempo We See has a happy melody-the A section is singable. It was mistitled Manganese when Monk recorded it in France in 1954. His produced, Andre Francis, came up with the title as a French-speaking pun on Monk at Ease. And, of course, it refers to the mineral.
Who Knows-Yet another Blue Note-era tune recorded once and disbanded, Who Knows required eight takes when it was recorded on October 21, 1947 session (Blue Note 1565, BNJ61011). Trumpeter George Flip Taitt and alto saxophonist Sahib Shihab had a difficult time negotiating the melody, especially at a fast tempo.
Work-Only recorded once, in a trio setting on September 22, 1954 (Prestige PRLP 189), Work is a dissonant, difficult, wild melodic ride that artists have been willing to take. The title speaks for itself. Besides Monks version of Work, for which he alone is responsible for stating the melody, one of the few musicians to take up the challenge was soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, who recorded it on his debut album (Prestige 7125) in November of 1957.
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