For his latest project, pianist, composer and arranger John Beasley celebrates the legacy of jazz visionary Thelonious Monk, whose centennial is being observed in the 2017-18 season. Beasley’s big band, MONK’estra, captures the spirit of Monk’s singular style “with its offbeat melodies, humor, strange beauty and unbounded swing in fresh arrangements flavored with hints of New Orleans, hip-hop, Afro-Cuban, contemporary and atmospheric rhythms and colors.”
Beasley brings Monk’estra, which just received two Grammy nominations for its latest release, to Orchestra Hall for an SCP Jazz concert Jan. 26.
In this short video interview, Beasley discusses Monk and his enduring influence on the jazz world. “Thelonious Monk was courageous because he stuck to what he heard,” Beasley said. “He never conformed to anything, and he took criticism for that. But now we celebrate it as genius music.”
Thirty-five years after his death, Monk remains the second-most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington. That achievement is all the more significant since “Monk wrote only 70, 80 songs, opposed to 3,000 or something for Duke,” he said.
A longtime fan of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Beasley recalls his parents “blasting [the CSO’s] Mahler 5 recordings all through the house,” and he’s eager to perform himself at Orchestra Hall. “I never thought I’d actually be there.”