I’m walking into the kitchen at my grandfather’s house, and my uncle Charles is there, watching TV on the little color set on the tiled counter. He’s watching the new Ken Burns documentary, and I’m preparing to slowly edge out of the room, because The Civil War (Parts 1-199) nearly robbed me of my will to live.
“Marcie!” he says, excited. Charles is the only person on earth who is permitted to call me Marcie, and his excitement is so contagious that I forget to run away before I get sucked into whatever he is so excited about.
“Listen to this cat,” he says, just as the image of a bespectacled piano player (who looks oddly like my uncle Jewel) pops up. “He’s a genius.”
It’s Thelonious Monk. The name sticks with me, even after I completely forget about our exchange in the kitchen.
Years later, I’m walking through the Borders at Stonestown Mall and I see a listening station, and one of the choices is Thelonious Monk’s London Collection. I remember that cat’s name, so I press the relevant number and Trinkle, Tinkle begins to play and before I know what is happening I have played the track three times, standing dumbfounded with my enormous grad-school backpack still on.
Before, “jazz” was Ella and Ellington, smooth and silky. But now, it’s like I have installed a jazz upgrade. From Monk I move to Coltrane, and from Coltrane to amazing crazy Miles Davis. My world expands to include new sounds and tempos.
But my world contracts, too, and we lose my uncle Charles, who loved KBLX, who was our best dancer and could calypso better than anybody, who gave me Monday, Monday by the Mamas and the Papas and gave me bebop and Getz and Monk, Thelonious Monk cornering a melody and making it his own.