Thursday, June 9, 2011


Caught these two documentaries last night on TCM and was glad I did.

The Brubeck film, DAVE BRUBECK: IN HIS OWN SWEET WAY, is relatively new, from 2010, and I hadn't seen it before. It was a delight to watch the vintage footage of The Dave Brubeck Quartet performing songs that had such an impact on not just jazz but the world back when I was a young piano player in love with jazz, like "Take Five" and "Blue La Ronda ala Turk" (if I'm remembering the latter title correctly).

The music (including Brubeck's choral and more "classical" compositions as well as his more jazz-related tunes like the two mentioned above) is examined and at times explained in ways that I think someone even unfamiliar with jazz or Brubeck should be able to get something out of. But for jazz fans it's a delight.

And adding to that delight are the obviously relatively recent scenes with Clint Eastwood (one of the producers of both the movies covered in this post), a pretty good piano player and composer himself, listening and digging the older Brubeck display his chops. Two old gray haired guys who share a passion for the music and the instrument.

I couldn't find any footage from that but here's a really strange video version of the Brubeck Quartet playing "Blue Rondo" etc:

Although I always dug and still dig Brubeck's playing, and a lot of his compositions, my appreciation for Thelonious Monk is on an entirely different level. Brubeck is definitely an original, as the documentary on him makes obvious, but Monk is beyond original.

I'd seen THELONIOUS MONK: STRAIGHT NO CHASER when it first came out in 1988, (like the Brubeck film, it's directed by Bruce Ricker and co-produced by Eastwood). It too is delightful at times. Especially when Monk is playing the piano (a lot of the footage was shot during a 1968 tour of Europe) or in a humorous mood.

But the Monk film is also difficult at times to watch, because his mental problems were becoming worse during the period most of the footage of him is from. What is incredible and even awe-inspiring to me, is the capacity for transcending those problems that his musical genius gave him.

It's also difficult to witness the confusion, concern and sometimes misunderstanding of those around him,  from family to fellow musicians and producers etc. But in my estimation Monk's musical genius is unmatched not only in the history of jazz but American music in general. And anytime you can watch his genius at work, it's worth it, even if at times it can be disturbing or even heartbreaking to witness the troubled mind that went with it.

Here's about an eight minute segment mostly relating to his relationship with his wife Nellie, that if you watch to the end will reveal a lot of what this Monk documentary has to offer (and that's his son Thelonious Junior as the first talking head):


Robert Berner said...

Lal--Thanks for posting these videos. I watched a large part of the Brubeck film last night and I was amazed to learn that he had converted to Catholicism. Whadda-
And I'd seen Straight No chaser all the way though once years ago, so I recorded it last night for later viewing from beginning to end. Monk's story is sad, but it's always the music that amazes you most in such films--that and the length of time Brubeck has been married to the same woman.
Bob B.

Lally said...

Bob, totally agree, Both their wives were remarkable women in their own right, but such supporters (and in Iola (sp?) Brubeck's case a musical collaborator at times) of their husband's jazz musician lives.