Thelonious Monk meets the French critics: Art and Entertainment, Improvisation, and its Simulacrum

Perchard, Tom. 2011. Thelonious Monk meets the French critics: Art and Entertainment, Improvisation, and its Simulacrum. Jazz Perspectives, 5(1), pp. 61-94. ISSN 1749-4060 [Article]

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By the late-1950s, Thelonious Monk had become a figure of veneration in French modern jazz circles. But in the first years of the following decade, the pianist’s French critics – like those in other parts of the world – began to censure Monk for having ceased to “evolve”; this trend reached something of an apotheosis in a 1964 Jazz magazine article, in which Michel-Claude Jalard condemned Monk for having presented the mere “simulacra” of former improvisations in his then-recent Paris performances. Focussing on Jalard’s argument, the article puts this French critical trend in context, showing how issues widely occurring in Monk’s 1960s reception were re-voiced by French writers in the language, and to the ends, of a specific and local debate between jazz writers – one which centered on oppositions of modernity and tradition, art and entertainment, and the political left and right. The piece goes on to further explore some of these “French” arguments by way of a musical analysis of several live performances of the standard Lulu’s Back in Town, as given by Monk’s quartet during its European tour of 1966. In taking a somewhat unfamiliar theoretical literature as its interpretive starting point, this analysis aims to give new and newly precise answers to questions the French writers – and many commentators after them – would ask of the pianist, and which recent scholarly work concerned above all else with dialogue and interaction has only partly equipped us to answer: where in Monk’s music is the line between improvisation and composition, between improviser’s art and entertainer’s act, and why have critics thought it mattered?

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Research Office > REF2014


August 2011Published

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02 Dec 2011 10:08

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30 Jun 2017 10:00

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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