Thelonious Monk on the Moment He Became Aware of the Police

During the 1960s and 70s, legendary jazz drummer Art Taylor interviewed his fellow musicians. The interviews are collected in the 1993 book Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews, and it’s one of jazz’s greatest. The familial, casual conversations are also serious and insightful, full of history, portraiture, and revelations about race relations in America, and the lives of black musicians in a music industry run by white people. From Philly Joe Jones to Kenny Clark, Taylor knew his subjects because he played with them, so he asked probing questions. Here’s an excerpt of his 1969 talk with pianist-composer Thelonious Monk:

Monk: I don’t know. I was aware of all this when I was a little baby, five, six or seven years old; I was aware of how the cops used to act. It looked like the order of the day was for the cops to go out and call the kids black bastards. Anything you did, if you ran or something, he called you black bastards.

Taylor: That was their favorite lick.

Monk: Yeah, I remember that; it was the first thing that came out of the mouth.

Taylor: I consider myself lucky to have survived.

Monk: Sure you’re lucky to have survived, you’re lucky to survive every second. You’re facing death at all times. You don’t know where it’s going to come from.

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