Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Thelonious Monk’s style has been considered non-conformist, modernist, technically stilted, intentionally unconventional, even incompetent. His performing is idiosyncratic, to say the least. However, by what metric is his performing idiosyncratic, or, framed another way, in what ways do Thelonious Monk’s performances deviate from the prototypical performance? Situated within family resemblance theories of prototypicality, I utilize supervised and unsupervised machine learning approaches to categorize jazz solos based on their melodic usage of standard jazz language (novel corpus of 530 jazz solo improvisations). Using these distant readings to determine which solos are prototypical, I perform a close reading of these prototypical solos via voice-leading reductions. This allows for an empirically grounded discussion of how Monk relates to the genre he was so influential upon.

In chapter 1, I define prototypicality and discuss various difficulties in doing so in a manner that produces real-world prototypes. Using these premises, I define my goals of studying how prototypical Thelonious Monk is as a performer, and how that determination is important when labeling a performer as a non-conformist, modernist, etc. In chapter 2, I employ statistical methodologies to determine which variables are salient in defining prototypicality, and these variables are used to create my algorithms for solo categorization. In chapter 3, I explore from a music theoretical perspective the most prototypical solos in my corpus as identified in chapter 2, ultimately concluding that these solos find their meaning in deeper middle ground structures. Chapter 4 examines in detail the three most prototypical Thelonious Monk solos in my corpus. I conclude that Thelonious Monk’s solos are less about deep structure and more about developing foreground motives. Chapter 5 is a case study of the tune “Bloomdido,” in which I analyze the solos of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk on the same recording. I conclude the dissertation with an epilogue entitled “What About Time Feel?”. In this epilogue I introduce future research and caveats concerning the importance of time feel and rhythmic usage when discussing performance practice.

Committee Chair

Jeffrey Perry