Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser

Director: Charlotte Zwerin

Institute History

  • 1989 Sundance Film Festival


Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser is an unprecedented portrait of this titanic, uncompromising jazz legend. Built around documentary footage shot in the late sixties, the film celebrates Monk’s achievement and influence, and captures the musician in action—in performance and in the studio, on the road, and behind the scenes.

The origins of the film go back two decades to 1967, when Christian Blackwood was commissioned by German television to make a one-hour film on Monk. After the project was completed, only to be seen in Germany, his thirteen hours of remarkable outtakes were stored away, eventually becoming a legendary cache, like sone Dead Sea Scrolls of Jazz. A few years ago, the material came to the attention of producer/director of the Last of the Blue Devils, a fine 1980 jazz film.

With the help of director Charlotte Zwerin, Blackwood’s original footage was supplemented with additional archival material, photographs and interviews with Monk’s associates. the final product is a polished and precise record of Monk, whose challenging, idiosyncratic methods of composition and performance redefined the jazz idiom of the sixties and influenced all who would follow.

Clint Eastwood, a lifelong jazz fan, stepped in to executive produce, helping to complete the financing of the film and to arrange its release through Warner Brothers. while independent of Eastwood’s recent jazz feature, Bird, the Richer/Zwerin documentary is an obvious companion piece. Director Charlotte Zwerin has long been associated with the Maysles Brothers, having co-directed with them Salesman, Gimme Shelter, Running Fence and Islands.

Screening Details


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