Monk was a contemporary of bebop; but while he helped to found the movement, his individual style veered away from it.
Little is known about his early life. Born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, his family moved to New York shortly after. He began playing the piano at age 6, and while he had some formal training, is regarded as being essentially self-taught. He briefly toured with an evangelist in his teens, playing the church organ.
Around his late teens he began to find work playing jazz; he appears on recordings of Jerry Newman made around 1941 at Minton's, a New York club, where Monk had been hired as the house band pianist. His style at the time is described as "hard-swinging", with the addition of runs in the style of Art Tatum. In 1944 Monk made his first studio recordings with the Coleman Hawkins Quartet. He married Nellie Smith in 1947, the same year he made his first recordings as a bandleader.
Monk worked on touring and recording throughout the 1950s and 1960s but disappeared from the scene in the early 1970s. His last recording was made in November 1971 and he only made a limited number of appearances during the final decade of his life.
Monk is considered by some sources to have suffered from bipolar disorder.
He died in 1982 and was interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. Following his death, his music has been rediscovered by a wider audience and he is now counted alongside the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and others as a major figure in the history of jazz. In 1989, Clint Eastwood produced a documentary about Monk's life and music, called Straight, No Chaser.
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