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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Winston-Salem Journal | Tortured Soul: Monk details journey of lonely jazz musician

Winston-Salem Journal | Tortured Soul: Monk details journey of lonely jazz musician
Tortured Soul: Monk details journey of lonely jazz musician
By Michael Hewlett
Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Thelonious Monk found both joy and sorrow in the jazz he played, forever chasing the fame he saw other musicians attain, but also struggling to never compromise his artistic vision.

He flitted from genius to madness to genius again, all the while creating music that people still find mesmerizing.

Equally mesmerizing is the one-man performance, Monk, that opened last night at the Ring Theatre on Wake Forest University's campus as part of the National Black Theatre Festival.

In the title role is Rome Neal. He also directed the play with Laurence Holder, who wrote the piece. Bill Lee, who has for years scored the movies of his son, Spike Lee, provides the recorded music.

Neal gives a poignant portrayal of a man blessed with incredible talent, but cursed with a stubborn streak of individualism, a combination that sometimes alienated him from other jazz musicians and even himself.

Monk was a man burdened by an almost crushing self-doubt and an immense need for others to recognize his contributions to jazz.

Shifting easily from raucous humor to bone-chilling pathos, Neal takes the audience on both the personal and professional journey of Monk - the conflicts with fellow jazz musicians such as Miles Davis; his love for wife, Nellie; his devotion to his mother, who always told him to stand straight; and his never-ending battle to find his place in the world of jazz.

Neal shows the life of an artist, an often lonely one, filled with periods of pain and bliss. It is a performance whose music is as beautiful as Monk's.

• Monk will be presented at 3 and 8 p.m. today and Thursday at the Ring Theatre in the Scales Fine Arts Center at Wake Forest University. The production contains adult situations and profanity. Admission is $35. For tickets or more information, see or call 723-7907.

• Michael Hewlett can be reached at 727-7326 or at

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