Saturday, April 02, 2011

Frankie Dunlop on Monk

UPDATE: Much about Monk in this interview with Ben Riley from 1986 as well.

In his 1985 Modern Drummer interview, Frankie Dunlop talks about his time with Thelonious Monk:

...I went with Monk in '61, starting at The Jazz Gallery. That was with John Ore on bass and Charlie Rouse on tenor. I was with Monk for three-and-a-half years. After a while, John Ore left and Butch Warren joined the band.

MD: Monk's bassists always seemed to be restricted to straight timekeeping, more so than his drummers. Even during solos, Monk's bassists rarely broke out of a walking bass line.

FD: That's right. Monk always liked an exceptionally strong bass man and drummer. The reason you heard so much straight playing was because Monk didn't consider it a rhythm section—even though it was a quartet—unless it had the driving sound—the dynamics and the attack of a heavy, hard-driving section like those of Count Basie or Duke Ellington. That was the way Monk thought. Rhythmically, his conception was not like the average quartet. From the first beat, Monk's quartet would be just like the rhythm section of any good big band—just like Woody Herman stomping off "Woodchopper's Ball" or "Northwest Passage." We played a little louder than the average quartet, but basically we played with a lot of dynamics. We were just four pieces, but all of Monk's things would be hard-driving.



MD: Monk's music was usually called experimental, but I can hear a lot of tradition in his music. When he was relaxing at home, do you know what kind of music he enjoyed listening to?

FD: He would listen to Duke Ellington. Monk was inspired a lot by Duke. Eventually, you heard him do Monk, but if you listen especially to his ballads on the trio or solo piano albums, you'll hear Duke Ellington. Monk would also listen to Jimmy Lunceford. He thought that no one in the world could swing like Jimmy Lunceford.

MD: And Monk played with that same two-beat feel.

FD: Right. I remember one Monday night in the wintertime, Clark Terry had his big band up at The Baron. Monk ran out of the club and saw me. He said, "Hey Frank, I want you to sit in and play with Clark. Go in and swing one. Man, you can make that band swing like it's supposed to." Then Monk went back in and went up to the bandstand. He said, "Hey Clark!" Clark knew Monk. Clark said, "For those of you who are not aware, that's Thelonious Monk—The High Priest of Bop—over there hollering at me. What do you want?'' Monk said, "I was just outside talking to Jimmy Lunceford and his band. They want to sit in and play one. Is that alright with you?" That was the way Monk would give you a message. He was comical, but he had a message. He said very little, but what he did say made sense. It would make you laugh. He didn't want you to feel bad. He thought you'd get the message if he told you in a humorous way. He never even fired anyone. He used to say to me, "Frank, as long as you're swingin', man, I don't care what you do. You know what? On intermission, you can go out and kill a cat if you want to, as long as you swing when you come back and hit the stand with your drums." His point was that the main thing was to concentrate, swing, and play your instrument. He was giving Clark Terry a message that night at The Baron. He was saying, "Look, I've been listening to you guys up there. I've been in this place for a whole hour, and you cats aren't doing anything for my ears tonight. You cats aren't really making it."

I learned so much from Monk—things that he told me about his philosophy on life that have helped me—things that I laughed about. He used to tell me that it's easier to play fast than slow. When he first told me that, I thought, "Oh no. There's no way in the world." But Monk was right. It's harder to play slow and accurate. He proved it to me. I'd been playing fast with all these groups. Man, there was no way anyone could tell me that some of the upstairs tempos I played with Maynard weren't the end all to drumming. Monk proved it to me on my first night, when I rejoined him in 1961 at the new Five Spot. We were in the back room and Monk said, "You want to solo and play fast all the time. All drummers are that way. When you're playing fast, soloing, and throwing your sticks, you think you're really playing. In your estimation, that's the hardest. Well, you know, it's really harder to play slow than it is to play fast, and to swing and create something while you're doing it." Monk finished talking to me, and we went up to the stand. Monk had his hat on. The place was packed. He started off the tune with an extra-slow tempo. I wondered what was going on. Charlie Rouse came in and played the ensemble; Monk jumped off the piano and started dancing during Charlie's solo. He danced over to me and said, "Okay. Get to me now. Swing it, pal." I was wondering if I was doing it. I had to concentrate so hard on the music that I couldn't look at the audience. I couldn't look at the door. I couldn't even look to see what time it was. I had to swing. I thought, "Oh, my God." I was playing slow, which was the hardest thing for me. Monk would dance up to me and say, "Okay Frankie, come on now. Let me see you swing now. Shit. I told you it ain't easy to swing when you're playing slow. I told you that, didn't I? Come on."

I said to myself, "Well, I'll just keep the time and get with John Ore. I know I'll never get a solo." Monk played his little solo after Charlie. Then he jumped up and said, "You got it. Drum solo." And John Ore was still playing the bass. Monk said, "It's a solo, John. Frankie's got it. Go on, Frank. Wail." And John stopped. The tempo was way down here. I thought, "What do I do?" I'd been used to playing all this fast stuff. It was so fast that, even if I'd miss a beat or lose my ideas for two measures, it wouldn't mean anything because the people wouldn't know it. But the tempo was way down. Monk said, "Drum solo. Let me hear something, Frank. Don't be bullshittin'." I was trying to do things that I couldn't do. Monk said, "And keep the time. Here's the tempo. Don't play some shit that you don't know nothing about." I didn't even know how to put a paradiddle in there, because I'd never played a paradiddle that slow. And whatever I played, Monk said that he wanted it to make sense. I couldn't do any of my rudiments. It's a different musical approach that I'd never attacked. And all these people were looking at me. Tony Williams, Tootie Heath, Clifford Jarvis—all these drummers were out there, because they'd heard me play a little on the first gig I had with Monk. They knew I'd been with Maynard and Duke. Here I was coming back with Monk. They figured that I was going to be wailing. I was thinking the same thing, and Monk put this on me. Do you know what? It not only made me look like an ass, but I also played like an ass, and it really showed me how handicapped I was.

Monk sensed it had me stumped, and he got back on the piano. When the set was over, I was so embarrassed that I went right to the back room with Monk. He pulled out a cigarette and said, "Hey, Frankie, you got a match for me?" I said, "Yeah, Monk." He said, "Hey, didn't I tell you, Frank, that it was harder to play slow than to play fast? You dig it? You thought I was going to play all that fast stuff that you did out there with Sonny and Maynard. That's cool, but drummers don't think that the stuff can swing when it's slow. They think that that shit is easy to do, you dig?" I couldn't say a word. Do you know what it taught me? Monk used to say that, when you played that way, you got the whole scope. He said that, if you were swinging in jazz, it could go with any tempo, even a ballad. Monk said he liked to double up. He considered Lunceford to be so rhythmically great because of the two-beat. And you can hear Monk use that long meter, even on a tune like "These Foolish Things." In the second chorus, you can hear him double up the tempo in his right hand, over the two-beat/long meter in his left hand. He was showing me :hat the real concentration comes with the slow concept.

MD: You always played very melodic solos.

FD: That basically came from working with Monk. With Monk's conception, a drummer is almost forced to think of the drums as a melodic instrument, in order to play something and have it make sense, too. If you're going to play something on the drums, but Monk leaves you out there by yourself, and you have to keep the beat going and the concept of the tune going so that Monk can come back in, then you've got to play melodically.

Playing with Monk was the greatest challenge of my melodic playing. For power, my greatest challenge was Maynard. For stamina, my greatest challenge was with Lionel Hampton's big band. Just let him stomp off "Flyin' Home" and that song will be going for 30 minutes. If I wasn't in 100% physical shape, I'd be biting the dust right now. I was with Hampton for seven years. There have been quite a few drummers that Hamp worked to death. Wilbur Hogan and George Jenkins come to mind. I'm not saying that those drummers were taking care of themselves physically, with proper food and rest. When I went with Hamp, my attitude was different. I drink very little. I continued my sports: handball, paddleball, swimming, weightlifting, and skating. I do this to keep up my stamina. In Hamp's band, the drummer is a workhorse. In any Lionel Hampton set, you can look for five tunes: "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Basin Street," "Flyin' Home," "Hamp's Boogie Woogie," and "In The Mood." Those are five songs that you're going to do every night, come rain or come shine. And those are the back breakers.

MD: Did you rehearse much with Monk's quartet?

FD: I played with him for three years, and we never rehearsed. The first night Monk asked me to join his band, I was anticipating a couple of months of rehearsal, but I played my first job with him the following night. He said, "All I want you to do is swing like you're swinging tonight." He also said, "Cats come in here with their new horns—their new shiny trumpets. Usually I find that the shinier and the more beautiful the horns are, the sadder these cats sound—the less they can play. Even you, Frankie—when I first saw you play, if you had had cymbals that were sparkling and blinding me in the eye, I wouldn't have hired you. You wouldn't have had a chance to get into them to make them mellow. Look at Kenny Dorham. As much as he played, his horn needed an overhaul. It had turned green, and he played that horn." He was talking about musicians having a chance to age and develop with their instruments.

MD: Of all the other drummers who've played with Monk, do you have a favorite?

FD: I liked some of the things that Roy Haynes and Art Blakey did. Blakey was one of the first drummers to record with Monk on those early Prestige and Blue Note records. Some of those tunes, like "Wee See," had some swinging arrangements. Some of them aren't that popular, and some of the ones that aren't played now, to me, were more swinging than a whole gang of them that they do play. But Blakey's style was more appropriate for Monk because he had a hard swing: a hard, definite beat. You felt Blakey's bass drum, but you didn't really hear it. It felt like he was playing constant quarter notes, but he wasn't. He was playing in a bebop style, alternating between his hands and his feet. There are so many drummers who have forgotten what the drums are basically for. Before all the solos, the rudiments, the flashiness and the twirling sticks, which is good, the basic thing is timekeeping.

That's one of the things I loved about Monk. He used to say, "Keep that time. If you're going to play something, make sure you play it within the meter.'' And if something comes to mind during a concert that you're not sure you can pull off, don't do it. That's why they have the woodshed. Monk said he'd rather have a drummer play strictly time than to bust in with some flash and mess up the time. I was influenced by Art Blakey from the early Monk records, and I knew that Monk played his chords and voicings over the old swing beat that Ellington and Lunceford had. That beat was nothing new. But I had a nice compliment recently from Monk's son, who's also a drummer. I saw him at the dedication of a street in New York City to his father. He said, "Of all those cats who wailed with my dad, I always dug you. You always fed that beat and made that stuff swing."

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic, thank you: really enjoyed reading this.

Karl Straub said...

I've read tons of books and articles about Monk, but a lot of the insights here are totally new to me. The stuff about Lunceford's sense of swing is really intriguing--

thanks so much for posting this.

sambolino said...

great stuff!

Jeremy@ World Hand Drums said...

Great artical. I love Monk. I really enjoyed reading it.

blavatskyboy said...

Frankie Dunlop was one swinging drummer.