Black History Month: Monk & Charles

October 24, 2022

This Black History Month, we would like to take a moment to reflect on and celebrate the invaluable contribution of two of the most important musicians of the twentieth century to the music genre we all love – Thelonious Monk and Ray Charles – whose work NYJO is currently, or about, to tour for audiences around the UK.

To the lives and struggle of African American artists and the African diaspora we owe an unpayable debt, musically, culturally, and far beyond. Thelonious Monk and Ray Charles are here highlighted as two of the genre-bending fathers of our contemporary musical landscape, without whom jazz as we know it today would certainly not exist.

Here are Monk and Charles, in the words of the two guest artists working with NYJO on these special projects, Tony Kofi and Tommy Blaize:


Thelonious Monk

One of the pioneers of modern jazz, Thelonious Monk needs no introduction. His endless creativity and unique style of composition and improvisation would change the course of jazz history forever. Monk is not only one of the most prolific and influential jazz composers to ever live, but also regarded as the father of bebop, whose sound would inspire music makers to this day.

As one of the most recorded artists of all time, Monk made plentiful contributions to the standards canon, with works like ‘Straight No Chaser’, ‘Round Midnight’, and ‘Blue Monk’. His seminal 1959 large ensemble recoding, The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall remains one of his most challenging and critically acclaimed works, elevating him from a fringe musical maverick into one of the leading figures of the jazz scene worldwide.



Thelonious Monk by Tony Kofi

When you hear the music of Thelonious Monk, you can hear the direct lineage from the iconic musicians who inspired his own style, Scott Joplin, James P Johnson through to Duke Ellington and then through to his own personal style with his personal sense of rhythm in which only few could understand or play, and clusters of notes which sounded dissonant by his percussive unorthodox flat fingered style, where you can also hear the culture of African, Caribbean and European influences.

Monk’s music is an institution in itself, creating opportunities for people to improve and develop their own musicality. A music which was so far ahead of it’s time that we’re only beginning to understand and appreciate the real genius of Thelonious Sphere Monk.


Read more about our current tour – Tony Kofi & NYJO Present: The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall


Ray Charles

Born in a Georgia in 1930, Ray Charles would become one of the most recognisable and celebrated singer-songwriters in the world. His unique combination of gospel, jazz, and R&B won him the nickname ‘The Genius’, but he was mostly referred to as ‘Brother Ray’. Charles’ wildly popular hits like ‘Hit The Road Jack’, ‘What I’d Say’ and ‘I’ve Got A Woman’, to name but a few, helped create space for “gospel-infused” sounds in pop music, contributing to the wide dissemination of Black music and culture to a broader audience.

Charles was also an important political figure during the American Civil Rights movement, lending his sway as a public figure and influential artist to the cause for an end to racial discrimination. His refusal to perform at racially segregated venues would result in a lifetime ban from his home state; but Charles was nonetheless vindicated when his version of ‘Georgia on My Mind’ became the state’s official anthem.



Ray Charles by Tommy Blaize

To   me   Ray   Charles   is   without   question   one   of   the   greatest   artists   in history. There’s something very special about the way he effortlessly crosses so many styles of music – from R’n’B to soul to jazz, gospel to pop – and his genius in being able to sell a song without defining himself in any one genre.


Read more about our upcoming tour – Tommy Blaize & NYJO Present: The Music of Ray Charles

Lucy-Anne (EP quote)

“Since joining NYJO, I’m so much more confident as a performer. Especially in terms of being able to entertain and keep the crowd engaged with you. It’s really nice to be able to feel that difference.” 

Lucy-Anne, NYJO Emerging Professional (Vocals)

Georgia (EP quote)

“It’s hard to just learn this music in the practice room but being immersed in the music at NYJO is a great environment to really push my playing. ” 

Georgia Ayew, NYJO Emerging Professional (Drums)

Sam Eastmond (MD quote)

"Giving them space to create whatever they wanted, without setting parameters of idiom or style helped them to conceptualise how they could bring these new concepts into their work without scaring them off, or mystifying the process."

Sam Eastmond, NYJO Educator

Jazzwise quote

"NYJO has never been conformist, never hewing to one particular line, never known for fawning replications and very deliberately these days a vehicle for new possibilities."

Jazzwise Magazine

Lydia (EP quote)

"The past year has been an absolutely incredible experience, pushing me way out of my comfort zone into playing with some of the greatest young jazz players of my generation and getting to call them my colleagues and friends has been beyond inspiring, and also an obscene amount of fun!"

Lydia Cochrane, NYJO Emerging Professional (Saxophone)

Anna (Learning national quote)

"[The NYJO residential in Cumbria] helped me to make friends with other young musicians. I enjoy playing a lot more and I’m quite proud of what I’ve accomplished. I feel more confident now. I have learnt different ways of coming up with solid melodies and also a little bit on harmonies. I think it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had."

Anna, NYJO Learning Widening Access participant

Briony (Learning U18s quote)

"I’ve felt very fortunate to be surrounded by amazing musicians, and I think that the environment at NYJO – which has fostered creativity and improvisation – has allowed my confidence and musical ideas to grow."

Briony, NYJO Under 18s

Oscar (Learning U18s quote)

"I think I’ve progressed a lot in my piano-playing. NYJO has helped me to flourish and really enjoy it. I’ve really enjoyed being engrossed in a high level of playing and learning things in a hands-on-way. I also like the diversity of perspectives and abilities of all the players and teachers which enables me to try things I might not normally."

Oscar, NYJO Under 18s

Jennie (Learning U18s quote)

"NYJO has got me listening to more jazz and learning more changes. It has also helped with working as a band. I’ve really enjoyed the free jazz, learning by ear, the people, and the atmosphere."

Jennie, NYJO Under 18s

Leah-Anais (Learning U18s quote)

"I love the people at NYJO. Everyone here is so encouraging and lovely and it makes the experience worthwhile. Though I have fun I’m still learning on the way which makes me feel productive too."

Leah-Anais, NYJO Under 18s

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