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Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (Full Screen)

Thelonious Monk , John Coltrane , Charlotte Zwerin    PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)   DVD
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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This exemplary documentary about seminal jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk reaps the benefits of multiple blessings, including the skilled editorial hand of director Charlotte Zwerin and the patronage of executive producer (and erstwhile jazz pianist) Clint Eastwood. Most vital is the use of extensive 1968 footage, shot by Michael and Christian Blackwood, documenting the sometimes moody, sometimes puckish Monk in the studio, on tour, and off stage, which on its own would make this essential jazz viewing.

In post-World War II America, few cultural upheavals matched bebop for sheer exhilaration. Spawned by jazz musicians whose paydays typically came with larger swing ensembles, bop was as much bastard as stepchild, refining the technical ambitions of its parent while breaking free of swing's formalism to play fast and loose with harmony, melody, and tempo. That mercurial spirit made heroes of high-flying, technically flamboyant players like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell. Monk, by contrast, was as distinctive for his silences, crafting often skeletal melodies distinguished by unexpected, skewed harmonies. At one point dubbed the "high priest of bebop," he was more Zen archer, threading notes, warping chord structure, or stabbing "wrong" keys with a seeming looseness that in hindsight sounds as precise as haiku.

Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser provides an intelligent portrait of this often reclusive, sometimes difficult artist, including telling glimpses of his volatility. A stormy studio session with Teo Macero, then Columbia Records' preeminent jazz producer, speaks volumes about Monk's very private approach to his muse. Perceptive interviews and glimpses of Monk's sunnier moments provide added depth, yet the real triumph is the generous catalog of classic Monk songs captured on camera. --Sam Sutherland


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Why nobody just wanna do what I ask 'em to do?!" Sept. 12 2003
Format:DVD
So exclaims a frustrated Monk during a late 1960s Columbia recording session, after finishing a haunting run-through of "Ugly Beauty" and learning that producer Teo Macero neglected to record it. The movie is filled with wonderful private moments like these, though I can't say how much interest it will hold for those not familiar with Monk. For me, however, and for many others who are infatuated with him and his music, the footage in this documentary is gold. The character of Monk is rounded out for us, and we find that he was just as unique and strange in his life as he was in his music. He was truly in his own world, and though for 90 minutes we see him up close, with his musicians, with his wife Nellie, with the Baroness Nica, see his bizarre behavior backstage, at the airport, in the hotel, we are no closer to getting inside his head. For that, one simply needs to hear the music.
And the music collected in the movie is astonishing--An early television appearance where Monk is miffed by Count Basie staring at him across the piano during a performance...several shows with a quartet including Charlie Rouse...great footage of the big band sessions of the mid 60s, with Rouse, Johnny Griffin, and Phil Woods scrambling to learn the arrangements...and the great Columbia session, where Monk becomes visibly annoyed, but still has time for a wonderfully tender moment with pal Teo. There are interviews with Monk's managers, his son, Charlie Rouse, and a fine piano duet of "Well You Needn't" by Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris, reminding one and all that not only was Monk one of the most distinctive piano players in jazz, but that, along with Ellington and Charles Mingus, he was one of the most brilliant composers as well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maybe the best film about jazz, ever April 21 2001
By PC
Format:VHS Tape
I remember going to see this film in the theatre when it came out, along w/some young jass musician friends. We all thought it was the best thing on jazz we'd seen. This was not long after Clint Eastwood's Charlie Parker dramatization had come out - to nearly universal disappointment. The feeling was that Eastwood had redeemed himself by bankrolling the production of this marvelous film - wonderful old black and white documentary footage presented w/contemporary interviews, etc. It's been a decade since I saw it, but many scenes still come to mind: Monk's wife Nellie keeping him propped up, Monk inexplicably twirling around in an airport, disappointments on the bandstand, a contemporary interview w/Monk's son and his honest comments about his father's mental illness. To jazz hounds, Monk is part of the family. This film helps get to know him better and to appreciate his art, and jazz, more fully.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Butterfly they tried to catch May 15 2003
Format:DVD
"Straight No Chaser" offers an abundance of wonderful footage of Thelonious Monk in concert, in transit, at home, in rehearsal, eating, sleeping, spinning in circles, in the studio, signing autographs and of course creating magic at the keyboard. Watching this film is like watching the weather on any given day. At one moment it's cloudy and grey, the next sunny and blue and in between anything could happen, and does. Monk clearly had serious and long term mental health problems, but the music the man created is his real legacy and there is plenty of it here. Towards the end of the film Milt Jackson, Art Farmer, Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris try to work out the chord progression to one on Monk's songs and as things get more and more complex Milt Jackson (who played with Monk) simply smiles to himself with a combination of perplexity and amusement at the sheer genius of the music.
The excitement and sense of discovery one feels in witnessing this precious footage does become tempered by the lack of insight into the nature of his music and the full impact of it upon other musicians. The interviews are revealing, especially Harry Colomby (Monk's manager) and a visibly emotional TS Monk Jr. who with understandable difficulty recalls his father's mental problems. Ultimately though, the uniqueness of Thelonious Monk's music shines through. His television performance of "Just A Gigolo" about half way through is inspiringly honest, utterly sincere (even in it's sardonic humour) and completely absorbing.
Monk's most lasting musical legacy was probably his honesty as a musician and as a man, the rarest quality of all.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Dead Sea Scrolls of Jazz? May 12 2001
Format:VHS Tape
Here it is-Clint Eastwood's *other* jazz film. The core of this biographical documentary about the innovative pianist and co-founder of bebop Thelonious Monk is footage of a recording date and tour from 1968, plus priceless scenes of Monk offstage. Filmmaker Bruce Ricker lets the 1968 film, shot by Michael and Christian Blackwood, speak for itself, interspersing stills, interviews, and some equally priceless early Fifties television footage. The 1968 film is shot in gorgeous black and white; the dark smoky club is especially impressive, visually.
Monk himself is imposing in black and white, with his greatcoat, pointy beard, and assorted headwear. In one scene he rolls into the recording studio wearing a lensless eyeglass frame and a Polish cavalry officer's cap. He shambles through the film, all sweat and bulk and cigarettes and raspy voice. There are a couple of great shots of his distinctive, spinning dancing, full of little surprises.
The recording studio scene is fascinating on a couple of levels. We get to see Monk and sax sideman Charlie Rouse go over the score of a song together. But we are also reminded that this is the late Sixties, when jazz isn't selling, and Monk is not a legend yet. The clueless producer and recording engineer, while friendly, keep telling him to play something to warm up, and then neglecting to record it. Monk finally loses patience and stomps off to a corner to angrily suck down a cigarette.
The film also records a European tour, which also has its problems. The octet that is supplied to him for the tour is oversized and under-rehearsed. They learn their parts on the plane to London, and can't get it together onstage the first night there. Much to the band's embarrassment, Monk has to stop songs to get everyone back on track.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars "THE PIANO AIN'T GOT NO WRONG NOTES!"
Clint Eastwood's little known documentary about the life of jazz musician Thelonious Sphere Monk.

Though Monk was a musical genius, it is hard to avoid the feeling that... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Jet Lagged
4.0 out of 5 stars THE Monk documentary
Whenever we see jazz-history programs on TV, we see very little of Thelonious Monk; there's always that short footage of him wearing slim sunglasses, sitting on a fold-out chair... Read more
Published on April 17 2004 by Patrik Lemberg
5.0 out of 5 stars Chicken dumplins in Denmark?
Alas, pianist Thelonious Monk was unable to acquire chicken dumplins in Copenhagen during a tour stop. The room service waiter kindly offered him chicken salad. Read more
Published on Nov. 11 2002 by Andy Williamson
5.0 out of 5 stars you must have !
if you are jazz fAN AS IAM ARE AMERICAN HISTORY BUFF THEN THIS FILM IS WHAT YOU MUST HAVE ,THELONIUS IS THE ONE THE WORLD GREATEST MUSICIAN THAT EVER GRACE THIS WORLD HE IN GOOD... Read more
Published on Oct. 9 2002 by jerome
4.0 out of 5 stars No Actors
This movie is a wonderful document of one of the most eccentric and inventive characters in the history of jazz. Read more
Published on Jan. 25 2002 by Eric Angevine
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Documentary
Straght, No Chaser brings a very intimete look at Thelonious Monk. From Concert Stage to the recording studio you get to see what Monk was really like. Read more
Published on Nov. 4 2001 by Ryan McAnany
2.0 out of 5 stars Almost boring
I love jazz, love documentaries, did NOT love this film. Sorry. It lacked editing and any real information. Skip it.
Published on Oct. 11 2001
3.0 out of 5 stars More of a Documentary than a Concert Video
Wow - I'm only giving this DVD 3 stars! Why? Well, it's NOT because it's not well done -- it is. When you consider how old alot of the footage is, you have to give credit to the... Read more
Published on Sept. 25 2001 by Bay Area Conservative
5.0 out of 5 stars hmmm
well this is certainly a great video. it makes you wish they had taken this sort of footage of many of our other great american jazz legends... Read more
Published on Sept. 24 2001
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