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Thelonious Monk:
Straight, No Chaser

(Charlotte Zwerin)

Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser

Thelonious Monk, Charlie Rouse
Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan
Phil Woods, Johnny Griffin
T. S. Monk, Nellie Monk
Samuel E. Wright - Narrator
Charlotte Zwerin - Director
Clint Eastwood - Producer
Dick Hyman - Composer (Music Score)
Christian Blackwood - Cinematographer
Rudy Van Gelder - Sound/Sound Design

The story behind Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser began in West Germany in 1967 and ended more than two decades later in Kansas City, Hollywood and New York. It had its beginnings in 1967, when the documentary film-maker Michael Blackwood was commissioned by West German Television to make a film about Thelonious Monk. Over a six-month period of time that stretched into 1968, Michael and his brother Christian Blackwood, acting as cinematographer and co-director, followed Thelonious Monk around, capturing him on and offstage, in the studio and on the road, at work and at rest in New York, Atlanta and several European cities.

In total, fourteen hours of film was shot and edited by the Blackwoods down to a cinema verite special that was broadcast only once in Germany and never again anywhere else. From time-to-time, talk would surface in the jazz community about the existence of this precious footage of one of the music's great artists. But the footage itself didn't surface until a chance meeting between Christian Blackwood and co-producer Bruce Ricker on the streets of New York in 1981.

Ricker's documentary feature about Kansas City jazz, The Last of the Blue Devils, had recently been released. Blackwood mentioned to him that he had once shot a jazz film too. When he described his treasure trove of Monk footage--which, in Ricker's words, had been "just sitting there like the Dead Sea Scrolls of jazz"--Ricker broached the subject of using that footage as the basis for a new Monk film. Soon Ricker and Blackwood had joined with documentary director Charlotte Zwerin, and they began planning the project.

Originally they had hoped to involve Monk himself. But the pianist was in poor health at the time and he died in early 1982. In 1986, Zwerin received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts which got the production started. She put together a half-hour film sampling which generated interest from Japanese, English and American television. In the summer of 1987, Ricker's film The Last of the Blue Devils attracted Clint Eastwood into the picture. Eastwood, a lifelong jazz fan, was preparing to produce and direct Bird, a movie based on the life of the great alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. Because Parker grew up in Kansas City during its heyday as a 1930s jazz center, executive producer David Valdes went there to do research for Bird. While there, he learned of the existence of Blue Devils.

Eastwood screened the film and was sufficiently impressed to arrange for Warner Bros. to release it under the Clint Eastwood Presents banner in France and Italy. Ricker then told Eastwood about the Monk project, and after viewing the sample, he agreed to support that film as well. Eastwood stepped in as executive producer, arranging for the financing to complete Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser and for its eventual release through Warner Bros. With the Blackwoods' original documentary material supplemented by newly-filmed interviews, new interpretations of Monk's music by Barry Harris and Tommy Flanagan and rare archival photographs, Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser was completed in the summer of 1988.

A selection of Thelonious Monk related products.




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