A leader of the postwar jazz revolution, Thelonious Monk—along with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker—sparked the "bebop" movement, a jazz style faster and more frenetic than the swing that had held sway since the thirties. Monk's piano style has been called eccentric: "his melodies were angular, his harmonies full of jarring clusters."
Monk's recording career took off in the mid-1950s, and he won an enthusiastic following, often playing with such other avant-garde musicians as John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. His compositions "Round Midnight," "Blue Monk," and "Epistrophy" are considered classics of modern jazz.
Jim Barber, historian at the National Portrait Gallery, recently discussed this portrait of Thelonious Monk by Boris Chaliapin at a Face-to-Face portrait talk. The portrait was created for Time magazine and appeared on the cover of the February 28, 1964, edition. The work is displayed on the museum’s third-floor mezzanine, in the exhibition “Bravo!”
Listen to Jim Barber's Face-to-Face talk on Thelonious Monk (16:05)
Face-to-Face occurs every Thursday evening at the National Portrait Gallery. The next Face-to-Face talk is this Thursday, February 26, when Reuben Jackson, archivist at the National Museum of American History, speaks about Ornette Coleman. The talk runs from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Visitors meet the presenter in the museum’s F Street lobby and then walk to the appropriate gallery.
Thelonious Sphere Monk / Boris Chaliapin, 1964 / Oil on canvas / National Portrait Gallery, gift of Time magazine