Update – July 21st: Less than a day after word broke of a Thelonious Monk biopic starring Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def, the project has all but fallen apart. After the jazz legend’s estate denounced the film as “totally unauthorized,” Bey has dropped out of the lead role.
A new biopic on Thelonious Monk is in development with Yasiin Bey, a.k.a. Mos Def, attached to star as the legendary jazz musician.
According to Rolling Stone, the upcoming film is being spearheaded by writer-producer Peter Lord Moreland and his production company, Jupiter Rising Film. A self-professed Thelonious Monk superfan, Moreland became fascinated with the musician after viewing his 1988 documentary, Straight No Chaser, and for years has been working towards making a film about his life.
Simply titled Thelonious, production on the biopic is set to begin next summer. The film’s plot will center around Monk’s “struggles for musical success, mental illness, and the spiritual love triangle between his wife, Nellie, and one of the world’s richest women, Nica Rothschild.”
Despite his immense musical genius and long-lasting influence in the world of jazz and beyond, Monk never experienced the same mainstream commercial success as contemporaries like John Coltrane and Miles Davis. His unorthodox playing style, which emphasized dissonances and angular melodic twists, did not immediately resonate with critics, and for several years he was barred from playing jazz clubs after being arrested for marijuana possession. Monk also battled mental illness, which eventually worsened to the point where he was forced to withdraw from music completely. He ultimately died of a stroke in 1982 at the age of 64.
“A leader.A Lord.A shape in space.A man from a community of devotion who lives a simple life distant from society,” said Bey of Monk in a statement to Rolling Stone. “The adjectives.can never be nouns.Love.is a verb.The Future has already happened.And Forever.is a current event.Jupiter and team.”
Update – July 20th: T.S. Monk —Thelonious Monk’s son and head of the Thelonious Monk Estate — told Pitchfork that the film is not authorized by the estate. “This project and its announcement are totally unauthorized! I hate the script and I control the music in Thelonious’ catalog. There is no involvement by anyone in the Monk family with this project, and we actually condemn the effort.”
Of course, this won’t be Bey’s first turn portraying a legendary musician on screen: In 2004, he was cast as Chuck Berry in the film Cadillac Records.
Last year brought the release of a previously unheard Thelonious Monk live recording which captured a 1968 concert at a high school gymnasium in Palo Alto, California.