Lobby Hours This Week

Mon: 10-8*, Tue: closed, Wed: 10-8, Thu: 10-8, Fri: 10-8*, Sat: 10-8*, Sun: 12p-6p (*On event days, lobby open until end of event)

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Archives Exhibit

Thelonious Monk’s San Juan Hill, Nina Simone’s Lincoln Square

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Map showing residences of Thelonious Monk and Nina Simone

"He's so creative, so individual, that he's a genius."
– Leonard Bernstein, New York Daily News, July 31, 1965 

"The closest person that had a sound that was not Nina but similar was Thelonious Monk. The way he used chord clusters and it sounded like dissonance or like somebody slamming an elbow, but it was a real musical experience, like Jackson Pollock throwing a can of paint on a canvas."
– Al Schackman, jazz guitarist and accompanist to Nina Simone, What Happened, Miss Simone?

Thelonious Monk grew up in San Juan Hill in the 1920s when the neighborhood was, in part, known for remarkable resident pianists like James P. Johnson and Thomas “Fats” Waller and the novel contributions they made to stride piano. Monk learned from them, and brought aspects of their sound to his modern bebop, but he struggled to record his work and establish himself as a modern composer and recording artist. After decades of moderate stability, Monk signed a major record deal with Columbia Records, and through them, booked the new venue in his neighborhood, Lincoln Center’s Philharmonic Hall.

Thelonious Monk first performed in Philharmonic Hall on December 30th, 1963 and the recording was released in 1964 as an album, Big Band and Quartet in Concert. The event was hailed as the New York City jazz event of the year and the highly acclaimed album was the first jazz album recorded at Lincoln Center. The concert was written about in Time Magazine with a portrait of his face on the cover.

Monk would perform in Philharmonic Hall, and then Avery Fisher Hall, several more times in his career, including in 1975 as part of the Newport Jazz Festival in New York City. The performance on July 3, 1975 would be the last time one of his performances would be recorded live, and it was one of the final performances of his career. Monk’s son T.S. Monk played drums in his quartet that night, and selections from the evening can be heard on an album called The Last Concerts, released in 2009.  

Nina Simone moved to Lincoln Square in the 1970s at the height of her fame and in a moment when many talented Black artists were exploring and asserting their ability to maintain a creative community and home in the middle of the City.

Simone, a talented pianist, explored attending music conservatory as a young person, hoping to pursue a career as a classical concert pianist. She attended a summer program at Juilliard School (before Lincoln Center was even an idea). When she was not admitted to Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to study performance, Simone forged a new path for herself, inspired by friends like Lorraine Hansberry and Langston Hughes, eventually becoming known as a multitalented pianist, vocalist and activist.

Simone brought protest music to Lincoln Center, performing in Philharmonic Hall on more occasions than any other Black artist of the time. Her record label RCA booked the hall on October 26, 1969 and she recorded the 1970 album Black Gold, which featured “Young, Gifted and Black,” as its lead single. Through RCA, she would record in the hall again in 1971 and 1973, and released the 1974 album, It Is Finished, which included selections from those performances.

In 1972, Nina Simone was the headliner for the LCPA organized series, Soul at the Center, the Center’s successful foray into Black performing arts organized with the producer Ellis Haizlip. Simone lived adjacent to Lincoln Center at that time, and she was spotted attending events of the two-week series that summer.

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Getty Images appear courtesy of the Black History & Culture Collection. Learn more by following the hashtag #blackhistoryculturecollection

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The re-imagined David Geffen Hall includes this multimedia exhibit in the Karen and Richard LeFrak Lobby, developed from the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts archives, as part of our work to document and understand the story of the neighborhoods of San Juan Hill and Lincoln Square, as well as our role in their histories. The exhibit, which is located in the west corridor of the main lobby, incorporates text and images to tell one story about the neighborhoods. It occupies a 20-foot gray wall, and comprises two black, white, gray, and gold print panels measuring a total of 17.5 feet, and includes a digital slideshow mounted on the wall within the panels. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

View PDFs of the full exhibit, “Thelonious Monk’s San Juan Hill, Nina Simone’s Lincoln Square,” by clicking on the links below:

In English:

 

En Español:

 

A Digital Slideshow, “In the Neighborhood,” plays on a screen on a loop within the exhibit: