Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Sphere Monk

1917 (Rocky Mount, N.C.) – 1982 (Englewood, N.J.)

Monk, with his angular dissonant lyricism, was one of jazz’s great idiosyncratic talents. He knew Johnson — an early influence — as a teenager. Hawkins gave him his first recording work. Gillespie and Parker were important colleagues. At Minton’s Playhouse (one of bebop’s nurseries), Clarke, Christian and Eldridge were among his fellow-players (Williams, who first met him aged eighteen, said he was never properly credited for his influence on his colleagues). Parker and Davis proved wary bosses. Smith taped and photographed Monk, who took the rap for his close friend Powell’s narcotics bust, and told the young Dylan “We all play folk music.”

Thelonious Monk knew…

  • Miles Davis
  • Dizzy Gillespie
  • Charlie Parker
  • Allen Ginsberg
  • Coleman Hawkins
  • John Coltrane
  • Roy Eldridge
  • Charlie Christian
  • Bud Powell
  • Sonny Rollins
  • Art Blakey
  • Max Roach
  • Dave Brubeck
  • Johnny Hodges
  • Charles Mingus
  • Horace Silver
  • Bob Dylan
  • James P. Johnson
  • Kenny Clarke
  • Mary Lou Williams
  • Clark Terry
  • Lou Donaldson
  • Hot Lips Page
  • Pee Wee Russell
  • W. Eugene Smith

Yoko Ono

1933 (Tokyo) –

Ono’s genuine experimentalist pedigree and presence on the New York avant-garde scene has been somewhat distorted by her public profile following marriage to Lennon. Wolpe used to invite her for tea in the late 1950’s and introduced her to Cage, while Mekas also befriended her. She asked Young to curate events at her loft. Maciunas gave her an exhibition: Noguchi stepped on a painting (to be stepped on) with his elegant shoes. She performed with Coleman, Haden and Zappa. She was a friend of Warhol’s, supported Spector (accused of murder), and said her friend Haring spoke to her following cremation.

John Lennon

1940 (Liverpool) – 1980 (New York)

Lennon’s significance derived from the potent mix of his singing and songwriting and his forceful character, on and off stage. He and McCartney met as teenagers (their famous partnership was increasingly full of tensions). Dylan — each influenced the other — allegedly introduced him to cannabis. Jagger, Richards (both mates on the London scene) and Bowie were among his occasional collaborators; Richards said Lennon felt he had to party even harder than himself, an uphill challenge. Lester directed two films, tapping his sardonic humour, while Spector helped produce, complete with loaded pistol. Ono’s offbeat art intrigued him; they married.

Ferruccio Busoni

1866 (Empoli, Italy) – 1924 (Berlin)

Busoni’s stature as an influential composer and musical visionary is increasingly recognised. As a child prodigy he met Brahms and Liszt, and as a student, Mahler, Delius, Grieg and Tchaikovsky. He knew Boccioni well, and met his lifelong friend Sibelius through his teaching post in Helsinki. Among his many other pupils were Grainger, Weill, Wolpe, Krenek, Luening, and most significantly Varèse. He supported Bartók, corresponded with Schoenberg, and was helped by Rilke. In WW1 Zürich he knew Joyce, Zweig, Werfel and Bloch, and was regularly spotted out walking with his big dog Giotto by the young Elias Canetti.

Ferruccio Busoni knew…

Johann Sebastian Bach

J. S. Bach

1685 (Eisenach, Germany) – 1750 (Leipzig)

Bach is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest composers. Aged nine, he met his brother’s teacher Pachelbel (probably just once). As a teenager he journeyed to visit and hear Reincken and Buxtehude, influences both (he was not tempted by Buxtehude’s daughter). Hasse was a friend and admirer, and helped maintain links with Dresden. Telemann, another friend, was godfather to one of his sons. Weiss (for whom Bach may have composed) and Zelenka were, like Hasse, visitors to his house, and similarly are taken to have been friends as much as professional colleagues. Bach tried twice to meet Handel, but unsuccessfully.

Johann Sebastian Bach knew…

Louis Spohr

Ludwig Spohr

1784 (Braunschweig, Germany)) – 1859 (Kassel)

Beethoven was a great friend of Spohr’s, met in Vienna. Hummel, shown work in progress, encouraged him, while Meyerbeer tried out piano parts (Spohr not being much of a pianist). Paganini, with whom he travelled in Italy, admired him (Spohr thought him both a genius and childish). The 8-year-old Wagner lived next door: Spohr later championed his work, and stayed with him at Mendelssohn’s. Weber, unwilling to move to Kassel for a post he’d been offered, proposed Spohr instead; outwardly friendly, Spohr was privately reserved about Weber’s music. Liszt and Berlioz were encountered at a Beethovian celebration in Bonn.

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff;Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninov

1873 (Semyonovo, Russia) – 1943 (Beverly Hills, Calif.)

Siloti (Rachmaninoff’s cousin) advised him to study with the disciplinarian Zverev, where he met his fellow-student Scriabin, and Tchaikovsky, a keen supporter and influential mentor (Zverev broke off relations when Rachmaninoff confessed that he wanted to compose). The première of Rachmaninoff’s first symphony suffered from Glazunov’s drunken conducting, leading to a bout of depression, not helped by Tolstoy’s adverse reaction to Rachmaninoff’s own playing. Stravinsky, a Californian neighbour, described his famous scowl. He became the aviator Sikorsky’s benefactor and vice-president, paid Nabokov’s passage from France, and gave him some unlikely clothes.

Pau Casals

Pablo Casals

1876 (El Vendrell, Spain) – 1973 (San Juan, Puerto Rico)

Casals reinvented cello playing and its repertoire. Albéniz heard the teenage musician playing in a café, was deeply impressed, befriended him and gave him a key introduction. Granados, a lasting friend, played in a Barcelona trio with him. In Paris he befriended Fauré (transcribing one of his songs), Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Degas and Bergson: Dufy was especially close, Casals often playing while Dufy painted. On visits to Russia he visited Scriabin, met Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov, and often played under Rachmaninoff’s direction. Both Schoenberg and Glazunov corresponded and wrote cello pieces for him.

Pau Casals knew…

Johann Baptist Cramer

John Baptist Cramer

1771 (Mannheim, Germany) – 1858 (London)

Cramer was Clementi’s star pupil in London before, still teenage, studying with Abel (though he remained Clementi’s disciple.) At 20, he performed with the 12-year-old Hummel. He enjoyed a lasting warm friendship with Beethoven, who thought him the best pianist of his day, greatly respected his studies for piano, and went with him to listen to Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni.’ Haydn was also a friend, while Czerny, Moscheles, Mendelssohn, Liszt and Berlioz were met towards the end of his life. Onslow studied piano with him. Cramer and Moscheles organised a banquet for Clementi, and with Field were present at Clementi’s funeral.

Joseph Joachim

1831 (Kópcsény, Hungary, now Kittsee, Austria) – 1907 (Berlin)

Liszt, Mendelssohn and Brahms all at different times became close friends — Brahms for life. As a 12-year-old, he bacame Mendelssohn’s protégé, playing Beethoven with Mendelssohn conducting. In Weimar, he joined Liszt’s orchestra and Liszt became his mentor, though Joachim later wrote severing all relations (when he took up with Brahms and the Schumanns.) He often performed with Brahms and with Clara Schumann. Bruch and Dvořák, composer colleagues, both wrote concertos for him as soloist, while his friend Alma-Tadema painted him (as did Sargent). Dickens hosted him, calling him “a noble fellow”. Spohr described his playing as masterful.