Most working musicians have a list of things they do and don’t do when performing. For musicians who are starting out, it’s advised to talk with experienced performers on ways to make your shows better, engage the audience more, and give you a better reason for the venue to invite you back. But even for artists who have been playing live for a while, it comes as a blessing to get insight from one of music’s true masters, Thelonious Monk.
Monk covers more than just the basics, even going as far as identifying some key aspects to live performance that are essential to success, such as timing. While the band should always be in time with each other, Monk calls out drummers who tend to stray from being the rhythmic platform for time for the band.
Other aspects of “must-dos” from the master include what is proper attire for a gig, knowing what to play and when for both lead instruments as well as accompanists, and understanding the importance of what to play and what to let go.
T.MONK’S ADVICE (1960)
JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT A DRUMMER, DOESN’T MEAN YOU DON’T HAVE TO KEEP TIME.
PAT YOUR FOOT & SING THE MELODY IN YOUR HEAD, WHEN YOU PLAY.
STOP PLAYING ALL THOSE WEIRD NOTES (THAT BULLSHIT), PLAY THE MELODY!
MAKE THE DRUMMER SOUND GOOD.
DISCRIMINATION IS IMPORTANT.
YOU’VE GOT TO DIG IT TO DIG IT, YOU DIG?
ALWAYS KNOW… (MONK)
IT MUST BE ALWAYS NIGHT, OTHERWISE THEY WOULDN’T NEED THE LIGHTS.
LET’S LIFT THE BAND STAND!!
I WANT TO AVOID THE HECKLERS.
DON’T PLAY THE PIANO PART, I’M PLAYING THAT. DON’T LISTEN TO ME. I’M SUPPOSED TO BE ACCOMPANYING YOU!
THE INSIDE OF THE TUNE (THE BRIDGE) IS THE PART THAT MAKES THE OUTSIDE SOUND GOOD.
DON’T PLAY EVERYTHING (OR EVERY TIME); LET SOME THINGS GO BY. SOME MUSIC JUST IMAGINED. WHAT YOU DON’T PLAY CAN BE MORE IMPORTANT THAT WHAT YOU DO.
ALWAYS LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE.
A NOTE CAN BE SMALL AS A PIN OR AS BIG AS THE WORLD, IT DEPENDS ON YOUR IMAGINATION.
STAY IN SHAPE! SOMETIMES A MUSICIAN WAITS FOR A GIG, & WHEN IT COMES, HE’S OUT OF SHAPE & CAN’T MAKE IT.
WHEN YOU’RE SWINGING, SWING SOME MORE!
(WHAT SHOULD WE WEAR TONIGHT? SHARP AS POSSIBLE!)
DON’T SOUND ANYBODY FOR A GIG, JUST BE ON THE SCENE. THESE PIECES WERE WRITTEN SO AS TO HAVE SOMETHING TO PLAY, & TO GET CATS INTERESTED ENOUGH TO COME TO REHEARSAL.
YOU’VE GOT IT! IF YOU DON’T WANT TO PLAY, TELL A JOKE OR DANCE, BUT IN ANY CASE, YOU GOT IT! (TO A DRUMMER WHO DIDN’T WANT TO SOLO).
WHATEVER YOU THINK CAN’T BE DONE, SOMEBODY WILL COME ALONG & DO IT. A GENIUS IS THE ONE MOST LIKE HIMSELF.
THEY TRIED TO GET ME TO HATE WHITE PEOPLE, BUT SOMEONE WOULD ALWAYS COME ALONG & SPOIL IT.