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Music

Tom Waits' favourite Thelonious Monk album

@notmyyaztattoo

American singer-songwriter Tom Waits has quite the music taste, to say the least. From Frank Sinatra to Bob Dylan, to Rolling Stones, there’s no shortage of great inspiration in Waits’ pocket. Of course, this makes sense perfect, as he’s dipped across a variety of styles over the years and put out 17 studio albums, the last of which arrived in 2011.

When Tom Waits was asked to discuss some of his favourite albums, he had a lot to say on the matter, naming 20 in total. “Scalding hot bedlam, monkey to man needle time. I’d hate to be balled out by him, I’d quit first,” he said of Elvis Costello. Later, he describes his love of James Brown, adding: “I first saw James Brown in 1962 at an outdoor theatre in San Diego and it was indescribable… it was like putting a finger in a light socket.”

With so many favourites, there’s a lot to explore with Waits’ music taste, including his love of Thelonious Monk. The American jazz pianist and composer made countless contributions to jazz music as we know it today, leaning on his improvisational songwriting and distinct musical style. Tom Waits has been a longtime fan, but he has one favourite album in particular. 

Waits‘ favourite Thelonious Monk album is 1964’s Solo Monk. When asked about the album, he elaborated, “Monk said ‘There is no wrong note, it has to do with how you resolve it’. He almost sounded like a kid taking piano lessons. I could relate to that when I first started playing the piano, because he was decomposing the music while he was playing it. It was like demystifying the sound, because there is a certain veneer to jazz and to any music, after a while it gets traffic rules, and the music takes a backseat to the rules.”

He continued by saying, “It’s like aerial photography, telling you that this is how we do it. That happens in folk music too. Try playing with a bluegrass group and introducing new ideas. Forget about it. They look at you like you’re a communist. On Solo Monk, he appears to be composing as he plays, extending intervals, voicing chords with impossible clusters of notes. ‘I Should Care’ kills me, a communion wine with a twist. Stride, church, jump rope, Bartok, melodies scratched into the plaster with a knife. A bold iconoclast. Solo Monk lets you not only see these melodies without clothes, but without skin. This is astronaut music from Bedlam.”

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