by Beth Conkin, Clark Montessori parent
After a 16-year absence, T.S. Monk returned to Cincinnati for the sole purpose of talking to and playing with the Clark Montessori Jazz Band. On November 9, 2015, T.S. Monk, the son of the late Thelonious Monk and a famous jazz drummer in his own right, conducted a 90-minute Master Class, open to all Clark Montessori band members. Three hour hours later, he played as the guest drummer with the Clark Montessori Jazz Band in concert.
During the Master Class, T.S. Monk shared his thoughts on what jazz is and what it means to be a jazz musician. “Jazz is not a technique. It’s a philosophy. Jazz is all about improvisation. I can teach a monkey to play a melody, but I can’t teach him to ‘play jazz’. A monkey has no philosophy. Philosophy uses technique as a facilitator for the musician to tell his story.” Throughout the class, T.S. Monk played the drums to illustrate his points. A jazz musician has to know how to be quiet, how to play really slow and how to play really fast. “You build a ‘vocabulary’ that involves everything. Then, with your ‘bag of technique tricks’, you can improvise and put your own ideas and thoughts to the music.”
The more T.S. Monk spoke of the “philosophy of jazz”, the more it became clear how perfectly jazz fits into the Clark Montessori “philosophy of education”.
“Jazz embodies aspirations to be included, to be relevant, to matter, ” he said.
Montessori gives students the message that they belong – that their school is like a second family. The objective in jazz is to be yourself. What makes great jazz musicians is, in the face of pressure to conform, to gather up the courage to be themselves.
The Montessori approach is often described as an “education for life”.
Later that evening, members of the Clark Montessori Jazz Band had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in concert with one of the greatest jazz drummers of all time. The program included two Thelonious Monk pieces, with T.S. Monk on the drums with Tyler Marsh on piano and Ethan Marsh on bass, as well as other pieces where the entire band played with T.S. Monk. Although nervous and awestruck, T.S. Monk soon put the students at ease. He joked with them, let them set the beat and offered words of encouragement and praise. “What your kids are doing – playing solos, improvising, just being up here – is hard. You should be very proud of them.” After the concert, T.S. Monk graciously posed for pictures with band members and their families, then autographed dozens of photographs and programs. Proceeds from the donations-only concert and the sale of autographed T.S. Monk photos benefited Clark Montessori Music Boosters.