For Buffalo musician and educator John Bacon, Jr., jazz icon Thelonious Monk's legacy is so indelible that he was moved to create a month-long tribute to the man. "Monktober in Buffalo," a multivenue affair spread throughout October, is a labor of love for Bacon in celebration of Monk's 100th birthday.
"As time goes on, I think of myself more as a composer who happens to play the drums, rather than a drummer looking for a place to ply my wares," said Bacon said, making his assertion that a musician's chosen instrument is merely a vehicle for the broader concerns and conceptions expressed by the compositional mind.
That statement is very much in keeping with the Monk ethic, which married deep musicality to a playful irreverence, and changed the way the composer approached harmony and the manner in which the listener interpreted that harmony. Bacon chose to celebrate Monk by gathering several generations of Buffalo jazz musicians together, to simultaneously acknowledge a master and celebrate the truly rugged spirit of individualism on the local jazz scene that he feels is sometimes overlooked or underappreciated.
Bacon will join the Buffalo Jazz Octet in a celebration of Monk's music at 8 p.m. Oct. 13 at Pausa Art House. A full schedule of "Monktober in Buffalo" concerts is at johnbaconjr.com.
Question: Monk was an iconoclast. The way he used dissonance, the construction of his lines, the playful irreverence, and the refusal to bow down to established rules – in so many ways, these are the core tenets of BeBop. Do you agree?
Answer: Yes. One aspect of the research I did for this project was reading an article that Jim Kurzdorfer wrote. Jim was a great bassist from Buffalo. I played with him, taught with him, and learned from until his passing about six years ago. Jim studied Monk’s music closely and wrote scholarly articles on the intervallic construction of the music. He took what everyone was avoiding and showed that it wasn’t impossible or scary. I’m thankful that I knew Jim and was finally able to benefit from the work that he did in this area.
Q: What do you think Monk's music – as well as the way he lived his life uncompromisingly – can teach younger listeners today – folks who might be new to the Monk universe?
A: How to be a fearless individual. How to respect the past and be an innovator. How to overcome the inevitable adversity you will encounter as an artist. How to be successful as an artist by keeping your audience in mind while not compromising your ideals. How to use what other people see as quirks, idiosyncrasies or faults as your true strengths. No one really can tell you how to be the artist that you are meant to be. You have to search yourself and be honest about what you find. Don’t be afraid. Find joy in your work.
Q: What compelled you to conceive of a multivenue, multidate, multimusician Monk celebration?
A: Monk’s 100th birthday resonated with me. He has always been interesting to me. I thought I could learn more about my own music if I steeped myself in his music for awhile. I also wanted to connect many of the people whom I work with regularly. I couldn’t get everyone together this time but there will be more in the future.