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A Letter From The Publisher: Feb. 28, 1964

2 minute read

When this week’s cover artist first met this week’s cover subject, neither quite knew what to make of the other. Painter Boris Chaliapin, son of the late, famed Russian basso, is somewhat more at home in the hot world of opera than in the cool domains of latter-day bop. In answer to requests, Jazz Pianist Thelonious Monk would mutter, “All reet,” greatly confusing Chaliapin. When he finally caught on, Chaliapin replied in Russian-accented retaliation: “All root.” During four sittings Thelonious had a disconcerting habit of dropping off to sleep. Chaliapin would yell at him, “Monk, Monk, wake up!”, then prod him out of his armchair and walk him around the studio. Says he: “Monk’s very strange—in the best sense of the word.” As for Thelonious, it took him about a week to learn to pronounce the painter’s name. Having mastered it, he improvised a song that repeated “Chaliapin! Chaliapin!” over and over again, in the manner of “Hallelujah!” Monk has not yet given this treatment to the name of TIME’s music writer, but he may one day get around to a “Barry Farrell! Barry Farrell!” chorus. While preparing the cover story, Farrell found that you “can’t really interview Monk.” He had about 30 chats with him, spread over two or three months, mostly walking around outside the Five Spot, Monk’s Manhattan base, or sitting in some dark bar at 2 a.m.— “just like Cosa Nostra.” Farrell considers himself “a jazz fan in a way I am not a fan of anything else,” takes a night or two each week “to beat about the scene.” But he thinks that for all its joy, jazz is surrounded by so much sadness that “to just say you love jazz is wrong.” One of the incidental benefits of jazz has always been to enrich the American idiom. A fairly recent jazz expression, used in this week’s cover story, is “bag,” meaning school, camp or category. In the occasionally special journalistic idiom we speak at work here at TIME, the expression may prove useful; we may yet end up referring to what is going on in the Democratic bag, the United Nations bag, the fashion, Pop art or symphonic bag. But one thing our cover story makes clear beyond doubt: there is no one else quite like Thelonious Monk in the jazz bag.

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