Growing Up Monk By Sierre Monk Sierre Monk is a freelance makeup artist, who resides in New Jersey with her family. She’s currently studying English, with hopes to further her education at Rutgers University. Sierre considers her animal companions to be family members, and she has a great respect for nature and all living things. This is Sierre’s first interview for PJM I’ve always been fascinated with my father’s ability to tell a story. As a child I would love to listen to him speak. The rumbling bass in his voice, the eloquent words he would choose, even his animated hand gestures entertained me. Growing up, he would talk to me about politics and history. He’d say, “the stuff they’re teaching you in school is bullshit, lem’me give you the real deal”, and that is how the story would always begin. He’d talk for hours and I loved every bit of it. And I wasn’t alone. My friends shared the same sentiments. They would come over and on warm evenings, we would all sit on the patio and listen, while Dad smoked cigarettes and talked. Presently, although we don’t get to spend as much time together, if I have a doctor’s appointment, or something that requires distance driving, I always opt for my dad to take me. Just so I can listen to him talk, like I did when I was a kid. Transcribing the audio content for T.S. Monk’s PureMagazine piece was a real treat for me. I felt nostalgic and content throughout the entire process. I know the stories, I know the answers to most of the questions however, I was able to learn new things about T.S. and I’m grateful for that. He reveals himself in layers, each piece peeled back like an onion. He never tells the same story the same way twice, be it verbally or expressed through Third Generation Monk his music, and I think that is what makes him a great entertainer. I can almost hear his passion through his words while reading this interview. He has the ability to take you to the exact time and place with his descriptions. You truly feel like you are there, with him, in that moment. Who influenced your career? My earliest influences were obviously the guys that were hanging around with my father, who were in fact some of the greatest drummers that ever lived. Art Blakey, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Philly Jo Jones. These guys were basically all of my father’s contemporaries except for Tony Williams TS Monk who was younger. Their impact on me was more personal, in terms of philosophy and their approach to the drums. The root philosophy was play your own shit. Come up with something of your own. Find a way to distinguish yourself. In terms of what I actually play, these guys all influenced me. Although, I will say Max Roach was my teacher so he was the primary influence. I liked his technicality and the order in which he played. I’m a Capricorn and I like order. Max’s thing was easy to see, easy to hear. Who did you listen to? Since my father didn’t have any hard rules, it wasn’t like I could only listen to Jazz; I listened to a lot of Rock and Roller’s like Buddy Miles, Ringo Star, and particularly Ginger Baker of The Cream. Ginger Baker is probably the most unique of the Rock and Roll drummers and when I first heard him, I detected that right off the back. I said, “Wow, well this guy is different from all of these other Rock and Roll guys”. And then, subsequently I came to find out that the reason he was different was because he had been a Jazz drummer before he joined The Cream… so Ginger Baker’s primary influences were people like Max Roach and Elvin Jones, so these are the same people that influenced me so it made sense. Since I was a child of the 60’s, I even got influenced by the Motown drummers ‘cause I liked the grooves that they set up. Probably the one, unique characteristic that all of the guys I’ve named as influential to me is that they all had their own groove. They were all groove drummers as opposed to willy-nilly drummers. You know, the guys that play a whole lot of stuff but you don’t really know where the groove is so you just clap for them.
Who influences you now? Myself. The reason I say that is because when you get to a certain juncture in Jazz, as a Jazz player, after you’ve amassed a lot of technique, and you’ve had all of these influences, then you don’t want to listen to anybody anymore. ‘Cause now you’re trying to take all that information-- for me it’s 40 years’ worth of information-- and you want to create your sound. So most Jazz musicians will tell you, once they get mature, they listen to others for enjoyment, occasionally, but they don’t listen for information the way you would when you were younger. Now I have to take techniques from Max Roach and reformulate them into something that I can say, well this is how TS Monk hears that. So, today, I don’t listen to a lot of people. I am on my own quest now to distinguish myself from my competition. Who are the influential artists that you’ve played with? Who is most notable? Well of course there is the great, great, tenor player, Clifford Jordan. He was a close friend of my father’s and he really got me back in the game. I mean there is no doubt that Thelonious was a profound influence on me, musically, because that is who I started playing with. But in terms of someone really pushing me forward, I would have to say it was Max Roach and Clifford Jordan, who happened to be really tight friends as well. When I got back into Jazz, after 1992, Clifford Jordan was the guy that gave me a break. He was the guy that put me out there and allowed me to perform with his big and for the last year, before he died, and I think that is critical for whom I am today. Had I not been given that opportunity, I don’t know if I would’ve been the band leader that I am today. In terms of people I’ve played with, god, over the years I have played with so many people. Herbie Hancock, Christian Mc- Bride, Roy Hargrove, Ron Carter, Clark Terry, Geri Allen, Wallace Roney, Paul Jeffrey. Like most Jazz band leaders, if your objective is to establish your own identity as a band leader, that tends to limit who you can play with because you have to do your own thing. When one makes a decision to become a band leader in Jazz, or in any genre of music, for that matter, then you can’t play with everybody. I’ve never been like a sideman kind of guy, so I wasn’t looking to play with everybody. I was more so looking for people to play with me. So in that regard, there are a lot of people that I haven’t played with, simply because of the track I chose which was to be a band leader. You can’t play with everybody and you can’t take every gig. It’s like politics. Most of the people that I’ve named so far, are band leaders as well. We tend to play with each other an awful lot when we’re young but it changes when we become established. I’m doing my own thing, approaching 35 years of band leading, so that doesn’t leave you a whole lot of room to play with other people. What are your career plans? (Laughs) Hmmm, my career plans? Well right now I have to tell you my career plan is to really establish myself as a premier soloist. There aren’t very many of us in Jazz, playing the drums. When we think of premier soloists in Jazz, we tend to go all the way back to Chick Webb and Buddy Rich and Art Blakey. If you look around Jazz today, there aren’t a lot of drummers that people run out and say “Oh I gotta go see so and so”. I’ve been in what we call “the woodshed” for the past 5 years now and actually, I just had a breakthrough on my instrument that will only be evidenced when people listen to me. I’ve sort of gotten to a place where I didn’t think I was going to get to. But, ya’ know, if you practice hard, study hard and really put your nose to the grindstone, all of a sudden magic can happen. TS Monk So I am really looking forward to achieving my goal as a premier soloist. I want to establish myself to a place where people say “Man I really love when TS solo’s”. It’s a really difficult thing to do. You’ve got to understand that people don’t really understand the drums because they really don’t understand rhythm. They understand 1, 2, 3, 4, you know, disco and pop music. When you get into the areas of polyrhythm and all of the colors that come from the instrument, people are not very astute as to what that is. In fact, if you look at pop culture, there have been two drum solo’s that people recognize and remember. Back in the 1930’s, Cozy Cole had “Topsy”. The other one was by a group called “The Ventures”, in the 1950’s and that’s called “Wipeout”. So to make an impression as a drummer is probably the hardest task in instrumental music. And that’s really what I’m into right now and that’s what my goal is right now. I’m totally immersed in it and I will make it come to fruition and I will accomplish this goal. How do you write music for other instruments besides the drums? Interesting question, it really, really varies. You have great classical composers from years ago who didn’t even have access to an orchestra. They were completely tied to the paper. In other words, they had to write everything out, then if a benefactor, such as a king came along, an orchestra would be hired and then they could hear the music back. But it’s very, very different today, there are many ways that you can hear the music back. But more importantly, (with) modern composers, it depends on PureJazzMagazine - Page 9