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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 16th June 2017 > At Long Last Monk

At Long Last Monk

Why did it take 58 years to release the jazz legend’s only soundtrack?

On July 27, 1959

Thelonious Monk entered the penthouse of Nola Recording Studio on Manhattan’s West 57th Street. He was wearing a very strange hat. This was often the case—the enigmatic jazz pianist was known for his bobble hats, trilbies, fur hats, even skullcaps—but this headpiece, a gift from Ghanaian Afro-jazz pioneer Guy Warren, was particularly distinctive: large and round, like “some weird modernistic lampshade,” as trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton described it. Monk was still wearing it, photos reveal, when he sat down at the piano that day to record music for the soundtrack to the French film Les Liaisons Dangereuses, a racy adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s novel directed by Roger Vadim.

Monk wore many hats in the figurative sense too: composer, pianist, bandleader, eccentric style icon—and, for that brief moment, film scorer. Les Liaisons Dangereuses was the only film Monk would ever soundtrack. His music, of-kilter and dissonant, helped set the seductive, scandalous mood of the film. And it nearly didn’t happen.

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