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Film / Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser

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Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser is a 1988 documentary directed by Charlotte Zwerin.

It is, as one might guess from the title, a documentary of the life of legendary jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader Thelonious Monk (1917-1982). Much of the film was culled from raw footage originally taken of Monk for a 1967 German television special, which reportedly included the only live footage of Monk offstage. This material was complemented with other Monk concert footage, interviews with people who knew him—his son Thelonious Monk Jr., his managers Harry Colomby and Bob Jones, and others—as well as new footage of Monk's friends performing some of his compositions.


  • Crazy Cat Lady: A home recording of Monk at Nica de Koenigswarter's house has him calling the house "Catville". This is immediately followed by a cut to at least fifteen cats eating and lounging around at de Koenigswarter's mansion.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: All the footage of Monk, namely the German TV special and the other concert footage, was in black and white. The 1980s footage is in color.
  • Documentary: Of the life of Thelonious Monk.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Used heavily with still photos throughout. A montage of Monk album covers has almost every one zoomed either in or out.
  • Narrator: Narrated by Samuel E. Wright—yes, the voice of Sebastian in The Little Mermaid (1989).
  • Stock Footage: The bulk of the movie, with probably over half being footage originally shot for the German TV special, with some other concert footage added in.
  • Talking Heads: Thelonious Monk Jr. saxophonist and Monk bandmate Charlie Rouse, Monk's managers, and others are interviewed onscreen.
  • Titled After the Song: "Straight, No Chaser" was one of Monk's best-known compositions, first recorded in 1956.
  • The Voice: Panonnica de Koenigswarter, member of the filthy rich Rothschild family, Thelonious Monk's patron, and Monk's host for the final seven years of his life, is heard in voiceover but does not appear onscreen.