The Mark Travers Project celebrates the genius of Thelonious Monk

After success at the Hurst Festival, The Mark Travers Project bring their show Thelonious Monk to Shoreham's Ropetackle on Sunday, May 27 at 8pm.

Wednesday, 16th May 2018, 7:09 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 8:26 am

Mark is promising a journey from the deep South to the jazz clubs of 1940s Harlem in a gripping jazz narrative of the High Priest of Bebop. Four actors will tell the story with a swinging live 12-piece big band celebrating the music.

Monk remains one of jazz’s greatest innovators, the second most recorded jazz composer of all time and one of only five jazz musicians ever to grace the cover of TIME magazine.

Mark said: “Monk is so important because of the effect his music has had. He has inspired so many great musicians. He is the second most recorded artist behind Duke Ellington. Duke Ellington wrote more than a thousand tunes; Monk’s library is only 80 tunes. He was maybe quite discerning in what he chose to write. He was not prolific, but he was hugely influential to the point that lyricists are attracted to put words to his melodies.

“I wanted to celebrate his centenary, and I decided I wanted to attract an audience that would not possibly normally go to jazz clubs but might be attracted to something about his life through words and music. The original performance was written for the Hurst Festival which was last September. It sold out. We have developed it and added another actor.

“It is a theatre show. The idea is that we have this 12-piece big band on stage and the actors recreate stories and anecdotes from his life story, and beyond that we have got full-on big-band arrangements of his tunes that have been done by me. There are also a few original compositions that I have included to fit in with the story.

“Monk suffered mental illness which was another aspect from the story that it was curious to write about. This was the late 60s, early 70s, and they didn’t know much about mental health. They tried all kinds of experimental drugs on him, and they didn’t work. He died in 1981.

“He lost interest in playing the piano. He had gone from being a voracious piano-player, playing all the time to in the end not playing at all. He had a grand piano right next to his bed, but in the last couple of years of his life, he had no interest in playing it. He lost his appetite for it.

“You talk about mental illness, the mental episode, and it is quite hard to explain. But you can talk about his legacy. His children decided to set up the Monk Foundation to offer young jazz musicians the chance to play jazz and through jazz discover friendship. He felt that true collaboration produced true friendship and true equality. There was no racism in jazz in the 1930s and 1940s.

“The actors really enjoy the story. Monk has got so many positive things about him. He is absolutely loyal and loving to his wife, and his wife supported his creativity. And the cast also love the sense that music and collaboration are friendship. There are so many positive, uplifting messages coming out of the show, and there are such great tunes to work on.”

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