Lessons, Music in the Media

Thelonious Monk’s Handwritten Advice for Playing a Gig

Thelonious Monk at Minton’s Playhouse, New York, 1947

This list of tips for playing a gig was written by none other than legendary jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. This handwritten note is a fascinating look into some of Monk’s thoughts on playing jazz, as well as practical advice for playing gigs.

A handwritten list of advice from jazz legend Thelonious Monk

There are a lot of great gems here, but a few of my favorites include;

  • Just because you’re not the drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.
  • Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, and when it comes, he’s out of shape and can’t make it.
  • What should we wear tonight? Sharp as possible!

So, work on keeping time (practice with a metronome!), practice consistently even when you don’t have a gig coming up, and dress sharp! Amazingly simple, but powerful advice.

For a small taste of Monk’s distinctive style, listen to his tune “Straight, No Chaser.”

Now try playing the *head for “Straight, No Chaser,” notated below. Start slowly, and pay attention to the rhythms and timing. Also notice how he makes use of space. Monk’s advice from the above sheet comes to mind.

    “Don’t play everything (or every time); Let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important that what you do.”

Have fun, keep practicing, and remember to “lift the bandstand!”

 “Straight No Chaser” Standard Notation and Tab

*”Head” is a jazz term for the melody of a tune.


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