From historian Robin Kelley’s retelling of the day in 1964 that Thelonious Monk met the South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, then still known as Dollar Brand:

… [Monk and his wife, Nellie] were at Kongresshaus in Zurich where Monk gave another successful concert. After the show, a tall, lanky black man with a heavy accent came on stage and introduced himself as Dollar Brand–one of those unusual names Monk dug. He told Monk that he was a piano player from South Africa who had just arrived in Switzerland with his wife, singer Bea Benjamin, and his band, bassist Johnny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoko. They had fled their country in the aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960. The trio had a regular gig at the Cafe Africana and he invited Monk and Nellie to come hear them if they had time. He didn’t stay very long, but before he left, “[I] thanked him for the inspiration. [Monk] looked at me for a time and then said: “You’re the first piano player to tell me that.”

Inspiration might be an understatement. The 29 year-old Brand (who would soon change his name to Abdullah Ibrahim) earned the nickname “South Africa’s Monk.” A founding member of the short-lived “Jazz Epistless,” South Africa’s most influential modern jazz emsemble, Brand was introduced to Monk’s music by his bandmate, alto saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi. “Kippie would talk to me about Monk before I’d heard of any of his records. I was saying: ‘Monk? What’s this Monk thing?’ And then, man, I heard the music and I said ‘aaaaaah.! I can dig this … so this is Monk!’ Kippie would be screaming about how Monk was playing the same type of sound you could hear in so-called tribal music up in the Northern Transvaal.” Brand’s first LIP as a leader, recorded in 1960, was titled Dollar Brand Plays Sphere Jazz [later released on CD as Blues for a Hip King] and included ‘Misterioso’ and ‘Just You, Just Me’–a favorite Monk standard. [Brand’s 1963 album, produced by Duke Ellington, included one Monk composition, ‘Brilliant Corners.’] … Even his original pieces [on that album] possessed strong Monk influences. “Ubu Siko” knits together phrases from two standards Monk played: The first bar of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” and the second bar of “You Are Too Beautiful.” It shares some similarities with “Crepuscule with Nellie,” including the bass figure in the fifth measure of the melody. Whether or not Monk ever grasped the impact he had on Brand, he did discover that night in Zurich just how far his music had traveled.

* From Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, I am half way through this book–a few Youtube videos, mp3’s, and google searches along the way.

Further Reading