BY MICHAEL FRAIMAN
It is inevitable that expat Westerners will miss expat Western luxuries: good beer, a cheap pepperoni slice, fish fillets that don’t surprise your gums by stabbing them repeatedly while you chew. In my case, jazz was that tall order, that distinctly smoky, late-night, sombre music that permeates small coffee shops and my bedroom on less fortunate Saturday nights. And goddamn if I don’t miss the stuff live.
When I’d first heard of Monk, I expected jazz fusion, or maybe acid jazz—certainly not real jazz, the authentic stuff that reminds me of Brubeck or Coltrane, with intricate, low-key melodies and winding improvised sax solos. Certainly not strings of LED lights and small candles lighting an otherwise pitch-black room, and walls plastered in huge old jazz fest posters from across the world.
In short: shit’s good and feels right.
The Monk Jazz Club is tucked away in a dark Kyungsung-area basement, with a chalkboard calendar greeting you and potentially as few as three other patrons in the bar itself. We went on a Tuesday, and the crowd—entirely Korean, though I’m told this is somewhat unusual, as Monk rightfully attracts an expat crowd—grew to a maximum of 10 persons by around 11:00. It is a small space, but the owners have maximized it well by adding a second level of what is essentially a low-ceilinged catwalk nine feet off the ground. The tables up there are small, candlelit, and barely fit three people. You could also sit on the main floor couches, or else shove into a semi-private booth on the catwalk.
On Tuesdays, the house band plays—Page One, a small, saxophone-led quintet with no weak links. The band at this point is entirely Korean (they have endured a revolving door of mixed race bandmates in the past), and the ease with which they bounce off each other, lending solos and nodding along is really comforting.
Other nights offer swing jazz and solo performances, too, but the calendar changes every month. And don’t be surprised by the cover charge when they add it onto your first drink purchase. Tuesdays are 5,000 won a head, other nights may vary.
Directions: Kyungsung University metro exit 3. Go straight out past the Starbucks and take your first right. Walk down the street 3 blocks and turn right. Monk’s is right there on the right, in the basement.
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