Yasiin Bey Says He Won’t Portray Thelonious Monk ‘If Monk Estate Is Not Happy’ With Film — and They’re Not

Yasiin Bey was announced as the star of a Thelonious Monk biopic on Wednesday, but as of Thursday, he appeared to be backing out the project in the wake of complaints coming from the late jazz great’s estate about the planned film.

“If the Monk Estate is not happy with it, if Mr. Monk III is not happy with it, then neither am I,” said Bey, the actor and musician formerly known as Mos Def, on Instagram Thursday morning. “To be clear, I was given every indication by the production company that the family was on board. It was one of my primary questions. … I took them at their word and clearly that wasn’t the case.”

Added Bey, “I can’t lie — I’m super excited, still, if there’s an opportunity to tell this type of story, but in the right way and only with the estate’s approval and full involvement and acceptance… I’m tight. I haven’t done a film in a while, I haven’t had any great yearnings to do them, but this one was something I was really excited about. So perhaps another time, under better auspices, but not right now. So c’est la vie.”

Press reports announcing the project, including one in Variety, had not been out for long when an objection came in from T.S. Monk —Thelonious Monk’s son, one-time drummer and the Chairman of Rhythm-A-Ning Entertainment. In a terse email to Pitchfork, Monk wrote, “This project and its announcement are totally unauthorized! I hate the script and I control the music in Thelonious’ catalog, There is no involvement by anyone in the Monk family with this project, and we actually condemn the effort.”

Jupiter Rising Film’s cofounder Peter Lord Moreland and Alberto Marzan had announced that Bey would portray the complicated jazz genius in a production set to begin filming in summer 2022. Moreland’s script, titled “Thelonious,” would focus, according to the press release, on “Monk’s struggles for musical success, mental illness, and the spiritual love triangle between his wife Nellie and one of the world’s richest women Nica Rothschild.”

Variety has reached out to representatives for both Jupiter Rising and T.S. Monk for comment.

Bey, as Mos Def, acted in films such as “Monster’s Ball,” television series like “Dexter” and Off Broadway theater productions such as Suza-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog,” but has kept a lower profile in recent years.

Thelonious Monk was an icon of jazz composition and piano playing whose work such as “Round Midnight” and “Bemsha Swing” had a life as complicated as his music. Monk died on February 17, 1982, at the age of 64. His most recent album release came last fall with “Palo Alto,” an Impulse! release of a 1968 concert at Palo Alto High School, recorded by a janitor and lost for decades.

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