Up for Auction: Jazz Great's 1933 Newspaper Tribute

By: Brian Orloff Thelonious Monk may be a legendary jazz pianist, but a spokesman for the newspaper industry? Editors and publishers can not only cite Monk's support but own the actual words: His 1933 schoolboy essay on newspapers is on the block.

On Feb. 20, Guernsey's Auction House in New York will auction off hundreds of jazz artifacts -- from Benny Goodman's clarinet to writings by John Coltrane -- at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Allen Room.

The collection includes missives sent between musicians and their business associates, including a lengthy handwritten letter from Louis Armstrong "when he was going through some personal changes in his life," says Arlan Ettinger, Guernsey?s owner. But the most striking item is Monk's notebook from 1933, from his days at Manhattan's elite Stuyvesant High School. The handwritten essays -- composed in perfect, dainty, ornamented script -- range in topic from a book review of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" to an essay called "My Favorite Magazine." (Monk's pick: "Boys' Life.")

The real gem is a one-page, three-paragraph essay titled "Everyone Should Read Good Newspapers" from Feb. 17, 1933, when Monk was 15. Ettinger allowed E&P to take a look at it in person and, as far as we know, we're the first to copy its entire contents.

The essay begins, "Everyone should read good newspapers because it is educational, not with scandals and crimes but good educational facts." Monk then referenced The New York Times, which, he remarked, "has many kinds of news." Of the Times, Monk concludes, "I'm sure you will find something to interest yourself with."

The essay also mentions two other New York papers, the Herald Tribune and the Sun, both of which Monk labeled "good newspapers." Apart from gaining the current news, the essay suggests reading a ?good? newspaper is enriching and should be incorporated into one's day. In fact, he advised, readers will ?gradually? find those newspapers indispensable.

"Due to the facts mentioned above, I think it's good to make it a habit of reading good newspapers," Monk concluded.

Monk's notebook, which Ettinger says is filled with his "disparate thoughts," is loosely bound. And although the pages are yellowing with age, his crisp black penmanship is remarkably clear. "Clearly he had great intellect, and a great style," Ettinger says.

Interestingly, though Stuyvesant recognizes him with a mural in its entryway, he left school after three years. "He wasn't able to get into the school band," Ettinger says, "even though [at] that time he was an accomplished musician."

Ettinger would not estimate a likely auction price for the Monk notebook.

Another jazz great has a school-related work up for auction. John Coltrane's fifth-grade notebook offers insight into what mattered to him at the time. "He created cutout letters spelling the words Negro History," Ettinger says. But each piece has a rich backstory. "This is the auction of 1,000 stories," Ettinger says.


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