ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Thelonious is dead. / Tonight’s a lazy rhapsody of shadows

swaying to blue vertigo / & metaphysical funk. / Black trees in the wind.



Books by Yusef Komunyakaa

I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head / Dien Cai Dau / Magic City / Neon Vernacular / Toys in a Field

Thieves of Paradise / Talking Dirty to the Gods  /  Pleasure Dome Jazz Poetry Anthology  /  The Second Set  /  Taboo: The Wishbone Trilogy

Blue Notes: Essays, Interviews, and Commentaries

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Thelonious Monk CDs

Monk’s Dream / Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane / Brilliant Corners / Straight No Chaser

Essential Thelonious Monk  /  Best of the Blue Note Years / Live at the Five Spot / Monk Alone

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Elegy for Thelonious

By Yusef Komunyakaa


Damn the snow.

Its senseless beauty

pours a hard light

through the hemlock.

Thelonious is dead. Winter

drifts in the hourglass;

notes pour from the brain cup.

Damn the alley cat

wailing a muted dirge

off Lenox Ave.

Thelonious is dead.

Tonight’s a lazy rhapsody of shadows

swaying to blue vertigo

& metaphysical funk.

Black trees in the wind.

Crepuscule with Nelly

plays inside the bowed head.

“Dig the Man Ray of piano!”

O Satisfaction,

hot fingers blur

on those white rib keys.

Coming on the Hudson.

Monk’s Dream

The ghost of bebop

from 52nd Street,

footprints in the snow.

Damn February.

Let’s go to Minton’s

& play “modern malice”

till daybreak. Lord,

there’s Thelonious

wearing that old funky hat

pulled down over his eyes.

Thelonious Monk, first of the many standout piano stylists of the era, is generally recognized as belonging with [Dizzy] Gillespie and [Charlie] Parker in a Big Three of bop innovators. Like Dizzy, ‘T’ is famous for real or fanciful eccentricities. He is also noted as the composer of original (and quite lyrical) melodies, in contrast to the more unusual practice of building from the chord structure of standard popular songs. Monk, like Bud Powell and many others, first gained prominence through recordings on the Blue Note label–now one of the few survivors among several independent companies who first dared promote this strange new music” (A Pictorial History of Jazz, 1955).

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Conversations with Yusef Komunyakaa

Edited by Shirley A. James Hanshaw

Conversations with Yusef Komunyakaa brings together over two decades of interviews and profiles with one of America’s most prolific and acclaimed contemporary poets. Yusef Komunyakaa (b. 1947) describes his work alternately as “word paintings” and as “music,” and his affinity with the visual and aural arts is amply displayed in these conversations. The volume also addresses the diversity and magnitude of Komunyakaa’s literary output. His collaborations with artists in a variety of genres, including music, dance, drama, opera, and painting have produced groundbreaking performance pieces. Throughout the collection, Komunyakaa’s interest in finding and creating poetry across the artistic spectrum is made manifest.

For his collection Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems, 1977-1989, Komunyakaa became the first African American male to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Through his work he provides keen insight into life’s mysteries from seemingly inconsequential and insignificant life forms (“Ode to the Maggot”) to some of the most compelling historical and life-altering events of our time, such as the Vietnam War (“Facing It”). Influenced strongly by jazz, blues, and folklore, as well as the classical poetic tradition, his poetry comprises a riveting chronicle of the African American experience.

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Thelonious Monk, Created Wry Melodies and New Harmonies—John S. Wilson—18 February 1982—Thelonious Monk [October 10, 1917 – February 17, 1982], the pianist and composer whose wry, angular melodies and unusual harmonic progressions are among the most striking contributions to the jazz repertory, died yesterday in Englewood Hospital in New Jersey at the age of 64. He had suffered a stroke on Feb. 5. Although Mr. Monk’s music was rooted in the stride-piano tradition of Willie (The Lion) Smith, James P. Johnson and Duke Ellington, it stood apart from the main flow of jazz. ”He hasn’t invented a new scheme of things,” Paul Bacon wrote in the jazz magazine The Record Changer in 1948, ”but he has, for years, looked with an unjaundiced eye at music and seen a little something else.

”He plays riffs that are older than Bunk Johnson but they don’t sound the same. His beat is familiar but he does something strange there, too. He can make a rhythm almost separate, so that what he does is inside or outside it. Monk is really making use of all the unused space around jazz, and he makes you feel that there are plenty of unopened doors.”

Thelonious Monk, the pianist and composer, created wry, angular melodies and unusual harmonic progressions that are among the most striking contributions to the jazz repertory. Although Mr. Monk’s music was rooted in the stride-piano tradition of Willie (The Lion) Smith, James P. Johnson and Duke Ellington, it stood apart from the main flow of jazz.

Randy Weston, a pianist who studied with Mr. Monk, has called him ”as complete an original as it is possible to be” and he cites the unifying ”simplicity” in his music. ”Not that his music isn’t often complex to execute,” Mr. Weston explained, ”but it always comes through so clear and accurate, so uncluttered. His music is simple in the sense that it has totality of personality. It’s all him.”

Among his works were ”Round Midnight,” ”Straight No Chaser” and ”Well, You Needn’t.” The strange contours of Mr. Monk’s tunes led the jazz critic Whitney Balliett to describe them as rippling ”with dissonances and rhythms that often give one the sensation of missing the bottom step in the dark.” “Jazz,” Mr. Monk once said, “is my adventure. I’m after new chords, new ways of syncopating, new figurations, new runs. How to use notes differently. That’s it. Just using notes differently.”—


Thelonious Monk, the Magic Man. Thelonious Monk became in my life because of my love for Coleman Hawkins. Coleman Hawkins was my idol. Coleman Hawkins go back to the Fletcher Henderson days, in the early ’20s, you know, all the way up to the first one to record Dizzy, the first one to record Monk, the first one to record Miles Davis—was Coleman Hawkins. So I used to go to 52nd Street all the time in those days. You can go in these great clubs, one next to each other. All the masters of the music—Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, you name it, you know? And I went one night to hear Coleman Hawkins, and he had this guy playing the piano. And what he was playing, I didn’t understand what he was playing. I said, you know, “I don’t know what he’s doing with this guy, you know? I can play more piano than this guy, you know.”

But I went back, and I discovered the genius of Monk, fell in love with his music, and spent almost three years just hanging out with Monk, picking him up, taking him to Brooklyn, taking him to my father’s house. My dad had a restaurant at that time. . . .Yeah, called Trios. We were open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We had the hippest jukebox in the world. On the jukebox, we had everybody from Louis Jordan to Duke Ellington to Nat King Cole to Sarah Vaughan; on the other side, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Darius Milhaud. So musicians would come all night long and argue: who is better, Coleman Hawkins or Lester Young? So, culturally, it was an incredible period, because I spent time, I listened to our royalty of this music.—Randy Weston,


Through his composing, harmonic ideas and knowledge of music theory Monk contributed enormously to the development of modern Jazz. Monk’s music is firmly rooted into the Afro-American music preceding him, both religious and secular. Instead of translating horn melodies to the keyboard, Monk applied the new harmonic language to his own style, which he derived from James P. Johnson’s and Ellington’s. His highly disciplined style featured angular, sparse melodies punctuated by dissonant minor seconds, thematic improvisation and percussive ‘clusters’ that defied normal chord structure. Both as an accompanist as well as an improvising soloist Monks basic concern seemed to be a rhythmic one, instead of a harmonic one. To a large content Monk’s approach was a lot more ‘pianistically’ than the more common imitation of horn lines and vocal melodies, in spite of his eccentric technique. Monk was one of the bop pioneers and a vast part of his compositions was already recorded in the 1940s, but only from the end of the 1950s he received, a part of, the acclaim he deserved. His piano playing influenced, among others, his early protégé Powell, Joe Albany, Randy Weston, Herbie Nichols, Ran Blake, Andrew Hill, Cecil Taylor and Mc Coy Tyner.  Compared to his piano playing, Monk’s compositions often are more harmony structured. Monk’s  compositions are meant as pieces (miniatures) instead of soloing vehicles, and they have to be rendered with unerring accuracy. They demand a thorough rhythmic and harmonic precision even to the way each chord is structured and its voicings.—

Introduction to the history and development of Jazz Piano

Thelonious Monk has often stated that his modern style is directly rooted in James P. Johnson and old blues—surprising, considering the angularity and dissonances of Monk’s music. Contemporary jazz players seem to have a real attachment to the early roots—the blues has not faded at all. . . .

Ever since jazz musicians began hearing Thelonious Monk, they realized that he was an important pianist and jazz composer. Works written by Monk have to be considered “compositions” as opposed to the “lines” written by Charlie Parker, for example. Under some lines, the harmony can be changed, and over some chord progressions new lines can be invented. But with Monk’s works, it seems necessary to use both his lines and his harmony. When Monk improvises, he does not simply play variations; he fragments lines sometimes and at other times he elaborates on them. He often starts with a basic phrase and, like Sonny Rollins on the tenor sax, plays the phrase in almost every conceivable manner. However, he received recognition for his composing before he was accepted as an innovating pianist. An example of Monk’s strong influence is the effect he had on John Coltrane. When Coltrane joined Monk’s combo he had to struggle with the repertoire. But after his experience in the group, he had the opportunity to become a really great musician and a most important influence himself. It was as if Monk were able to open Coltrane’s ears and to point out possible directions as yet unconceived of by the saxophonist.


Paul Tanner and Maurice Gerow, A Study of Jazz (1982)

Monk is the second most recorded jazz composer

after Duke Ellington, which is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed over 1,000 songs while Monk wrote about 70. His compositions and improvisations are full of dissonant harmonies and angular melodic twists, and are consistent with Monk’s unorthodox approach to the piano, which combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of silences and hesitations. This was not a style universally appreciated; poet and jazz critic Philip Larkin dismissed Monk as ‘the elephant on the keyboard’.

Monk’s manner was idiosyncratic. Visually, he was renowned for his distinctive style in suits, hats and sunglasses. He was also noted for the fact that at times, while the other musicians in the band continued playing, he would stop, stand up from the keyboard and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano.He is one of five jazz musicians to have been featured on the cover of

Time (the other four being Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis, and Dave Brubeck) as of 2010. . . .

Thelonious Monk was born October 10, 1917 in

Rocky Mount, North Carolina, the son of Thelonious and Barbara Monk, two years after his sister Marion. A brother, Thomas, was born in January 1920. In 1922, the family moved to 243 West 63rd Street, in Manhattan, New York City. Monk started playing the piano at the age of six. Although he had some formal training and eavesdropped on his sister’s piano lessons, he was largely self-taught. Monk attended Stuyvesant High School, but did not graduate. He toured with an evangelist in his teens, playing the church organ, and in his late teens he began to find work playing jazz.

In the early to mid 1940s, Monk was the house pianist at

Minton’s Playhouse, a Manhattan nightclub. Much of Monk’s style was developed during his time at Minton’s, when he participated in after-hours “cutting competitions” which featured many leading jazz soloists of the time. The Minton’s scene was crucial in the formulation of bebop and it brought Monk into close contact with other leading exponents of the emerging idiom, including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Christian, Kenny Clarke, Charlie Parker and later, Miles Davis. . .

As his health declined, Monk’s last six years were spent as a guest in the New Jersey home of his long-standing patron and friend, Baroness

Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who had also nursed Charlie Parker during his final illness. Monk did not play the piano during this time, even though one was present in his room, and he spoke to few visitors. He died of a stroke on February 17, 1982, and was buried in Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. In 1993, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2006, Monk was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation. Art Blakey reports that Monk was excellent at both chess and checkers (draughts).—Wikipedia

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Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk at Dinner

                                                    By Elizabeth Alexander

When people smoked, and it hung over the table like magic or like wisps of the talk and the music between them, chicken bone, the best Chateaux, Coca-Cola in glass, Monk’s eyes cut left, Ornette laughing at something off camera, safari suit and Savile Row bespoke haberdashery circa ’72 and the black globe is damn near free. Deep sounds in the cusp and shift, in the sour and the off-notes you bang and you blow, in the butter, in the biscuits, the bird carcass, jelly, just what you wanted and all you can eat.

Source: falsedawn

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Thelonious Monk—Straight No Chaser

Directed by Davis Guggenheim

Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser. Filmmaker Bruce Ricker couldn’t believe his luck. Michael and Christian Blackwood’s extensive 1968 footage of the groundbreaking modern jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, including the only footage of the very private Monk off stage, was in excellent condition. The reels were, in Ricker’s words, “just sitting there like the Dead Sea Scrolls of jazz.” Ricker, as co-producer, joins director and fellow producer Charlotte Zwerin (Gimme Shelter), executive producer Clint Eastwood and others to bring these scrolls to astonishing life. Their

Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser

combines the Blackwood’s rare footage of Monk in studio on tour and behind the scenes with new interviews, archival photos and more to create a landmark aural and visual treat. Tunes in order of appearance: Evidence; Rhythm-a-ning; On the Bean;

Round Midnight


Well, You Needn’t.

; Bright Mississippi; Blue Monk; Trinkle, Tinkle;  Ugly Beauty; Ask Me Now; Just a Gigolo; Crepuscule with Nellie; I Should Care; We See; Osaka T.;  Epistrophy, Don’t Blame Me; Ruby, My Dear; I Mean You; Lulu’s Back in Town; Off Minor; Pannonica; Boo Boo’s Birthday; Misterioso; Monk’s Mood; Sweetheart of All My Dreams. Year: 1988 Director: Charlotte Zwerin

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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

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#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

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#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

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#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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The Warmth of Other Suns

The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man’s turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners’ plans to give him a “necktie party” (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by “the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn’t operate in his own home town.” Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson’s magnificent, extensively researched study of the “great migration,” the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an “uncertain existence” in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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Hopes and Prospects

By Noam Chomsky

In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky surveys the dangers and prospects of our early twenty-first century. Exploring challenges such as the growing gap between North and South, American exceptionalism (including under President Barack Obama), the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli assault on Gaza, and the recent financial bailouts, he also sees hope for the future and a way to move forward—in the democratic wave in Latin America and in the global solidarity movements that suggest “real progress toward freedom and justice.” Hopes and Prospects is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the primary challenges still facing the human race. “This is a classic Chomsky work: a bonfire of myths and lies, sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky is an enduring inspiration all over the world—to millions, I suspect—for the simple reason that he is a truth-teller on an epic scale. I salute him.” —John Pilger In dissecting the rhetoric and logic of American empire and class domination, at home and abroad, Chomsky continues a longstanding and crucial work of elucidation and activism . . .the writing remains unswervingly rational and principled throughout, and lends bracing impetus to the real alternatives before us.—Publisher’s Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 6 April 2012




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