Excerpt: 'Thelonious Monk: The Life And Times Of An American Original' by Robin D. G. Kelley
Mary Lou Williams first relayed the message to Thelonious. A white guy named Bill Gottlieb was looking for him. He worked for Down Beat magazine as a writer and photographer and he wanted to do a story on Monk. Monk was incredulous. For the past year he had been hustling for nickel-and-dime gigs. Now the nation’s premier jazz periodical wanted to do a story on him? Publicity meant gigs, and Monk desperately needed both. Williams arranged the meeting for early September, 1947, and instructed Gottlieb to meet Thelonious at Mrs. Monk’s apartment on West 63rd.
The bespectacled and intense Gottlieb looked more like a college professor than a typical jazz fan, but he knew his stuff. Born in Brooklyn in 1917, Gottlieb earned a bachelor’s degree from Lehigh University and went on to work in the advertising department of The Washington Post. He began writing a weekly jazz column for the Post but because the paper had no budget for a photographer, he bought a Speed Graphic camera and took his own pictures. Gottlieb’s reputation grew through his work with the camera. After a tour of duty in the service, he returned to New York City and started working for Down Beat in the spring of 1946. He covered most of the mainstream big bands and launched a feature he called “Posin’,” candid shots of musicians with a sentence or two of witty commentary. He had become one of bebop’s more enthusiastic champions. Just prior to meeting Thelonious, he had published several photos of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis, including what would become an iconic image of Gillespie posing with a beret, glasses, and goatee — Monk-style.